Our last full day in Northumbria and we had a vague plan. We were meeting up with our friend but hadn’t really organised anything. A few quick texts and we arranged to meet her and her dogs at Boulmer with a plan to eat at the Running Fox Bakery at nearby Longhoughton afterwards.
So with an hour to kill, we sat in the courtyard and sunned ourselves in the warm sunshine. There was a bit of a breeze as well which had actually blown away the haze that had lingered all Easter and the nearby Cheviots were clear and showing off their beauty. And we were going to head in the opposite direction – pah!
We jumped into the car and headed east again. At Boulmer, the car park was already heaving, but we managed to snitch one of the last spots and met up with our friend. The day was beautiful and we sauntered up the beach, chatting and catching up, the dogs sniffing and exploring. We briefly left the beach and walked on a path just above, which gave us views of the sea and inland. We came up to a field with a scattering of static caravans and huts, a sort of private site rather than a commercial one. Some of the huts were quite fancy, others seeing better days – there were a couple of shepherd huts which were lovely. The ones right on the edge had a splendid view of the coastline and surrounded by dunes and grass, they looked quite snug. I really wanted to stay in one, especially on a really stormy day!
We dropped back onto the beach and sauntered back to the cars, the tide was coming in and the boats were starting to refloat. It was the most gorgeous day with big fluffy clouds in the sky. We got back to the cars and headed to Longhoughton as planned, following our friend, looking forward to a pub lunch. So imagine our disappointment when we pulled up to a 1960’s style village hall with the Running Fox logo. We thought we were going to a pub, we spluttered to our friend, who just chuckled. She explained that The Running Fox was actually just a small chain of bakeries with one of them based at the Shilbottle pub hence our confusion and expectation that they were all pub based. We felt rather daft as well as slightly disappointed as we were hoping to sink some alcoholic beverage with our lunch. But saying that, The Running Fox, Longhoughton, despite its unusual premises, did not disappoint as we ordered huge sandwiches and coffees in rather trendy surroundings. Afterwards, we fatally wandered to the cake counter and bought two slices of cake, some Easter nests (sophisticated chocolate Rice Krispies and mini eggs), honey and the chap threw in some cheese straws. Perfect.
We said goodbye to our friend and drove back to the little holiday cottage and relaxed. The evening was cool, but the sky clear and there was a lovely sunset. The Dog was broken from all her walks and slept deeply in her basket. We were tempted to go for a walk ourselves, but didn’t quite make it. Instead we just did some packing and organising, then curled up reading.
The next morning, we got up slowly and pootled about. I wandered up the road to post a letter and admired the Cheviots Hills, not that far in the distance. Reluctantly, we packed the car, put The Dog in the boot and said goodbye to the lovely little cottage in Powburn. It had been a fantastic few days here and we would be back!
The day started brighter this morning, with the sun hazily shining through the windows. We had a bit of a lazy morning before heading out to Alnwick where lunch was booked and did our usual meandering along the back lanes to get there. It was a different route with the long distance views still hampered by haze – high pressure is dominating our weather and nothing’s moving. Just outside Alnwick, a high stone wall appeared on the right and carried on for miles. It was a substantial wall too – high, built of stone and with symmetry. how many men and weeks that took to build, goodness knows. On the map, it’s marked Hulne Park and Priory, originally owned by the Percy family. It’s usually open to the public, but currently closed due to repair work after Storm Arwen.
The wall led us into Alnwick, the main town in the area. Just before the castle, the streets were lined with impressive 18th/19th century buildings, which made this part of Alnwick very attractive. We found a car park, just off the main shopping area and noticed it was free. Northumbria County Council doesn’t seem to charge at any of its car parks which is unusual – you expect to pay something, so it’s been a refreshing change to be able to park and not have to scurry around for loose change. We walked out of the car park and opposite was a grassy area surrounded by beautiful red brick almshouses, with little dormer windows and pitched apexes. It was quite charming until we looked on the other side of the road to be met by a shoddy heap of bricks that just needed a demolition ball. It was more than an affront – it was beyond ugly, an absolute abomination and we wondered which 1970’s town planning committee had passed that one. It was of watery brown brick, three storeys high with brick stairwells leading up to the top floor. You would see this type of archectural disaster in a inner city sink estate, not lovely Alnwick. Appalled we turned right and discovered “Harry Hotspur”, a 12th century knight and his statue.
It was while we were reading about Harry and surveying the local area, that I spotted our lunch venue. Our eldest had recommended to us to visit The Dirty Bottles pub if we ever in Alnwick and so we had booked lunch there. We were expecting to see a pub with a big swinging sign out front, but this was quite non descript and could be easily missed. We were glad to have spotted it!
It was decidedly warmer today as we walked around Alnwick. A few shops were opening up despite it being Easter Sunday. We walked down one side of the High Street and back up the other side, peering into shop windows, before sitting in the market square and having an al fresco coffee. With an hour to kill before our lunch, we waddled down to the river past the Castle and over a bridge. Here was a footpath that followed the river and offered excellent views of the Castle, perched on the hill. It was a pleasant stroll, despite sharing it with cows grazing – they didn’t seem bothered by us and kept their distance. We were on the edge of town with countryside all around us. We came up to one of the main roads back into town and followed that, passing Alnwick Gardens and Castle entrance reminiscing when we took the kids there many years ago. Soon we were back into the High Street and with perfect timing, arrived at The Dirty Bottles.
We went inside to low ceilings, beams, stone walls and a place stuffed with character. We were impressed. We sat down and spent many minutes trying to choose a meal – the menu was varied and had many options. Finally we ordered and enjoyed a excellent meal, which was huge that we declined pudding and sort of waddled out, feeling rather full.
Having exhausted Alnwick and in dire need to walk off some calories, we drove over to Alnmouth on the coast. Again, it was a place we had visited before, but only the beach. It also been featured on a BBC tv programme so we were intrigued. We drove down to the beach, paying £3.50 to park, opened the boot and let The Dog launch straight onto the beach. Today, there was no sea fret and we could see the sea, Alnmouth and it was pleasantly warm into the bargain too. We walked down the beach towards the groynes, The Dog venturing into the surf to retrieve sticks of seaweed or to check out a stumpy piece of wood. We went so far and then turned around back towards Alnmouth, the beach was busy with people, dogs, kids making sandcastles and a couple of teenagers jumping the waves. Brrr! We found a path into the dunes and popped out by the golf club, then followed the road around the headland where the River Aln meets the sea. There were some grand houses here overlooking the estuary with balconies and bi-folding doors – how lovely. We had been given a leaflet for a Sunday Market in the village hall, so we went and checked that out – mainly artisan craftwork, but I managed to buy an indoor plant to replace the one I had inadvertently killed within days of getting it. We carried on, following the curve of the road with the bend of the river. Here we were distracted by a loud horn being blown and went to investigate – it was the local sailing club hosting some yacht racing, so we interrogated the organisers to find out what was happening. It was basically three blokes operating out of a tiny wooden hut, rather than an exclusive yacht club, but there were five sail boats fighting the oncoming tide and the winds to get round the first buoy. They all struggled as there was a method to it, but eventually after many attempts they all got round and headed off into the far distance.
We followed the road which led us into the High Street – we had done a loop as we spotted the hall where the market was. We stopped outside a tearooms with a table on the pavement and decided it was a good place for a cup of tea. The sun shone down behind a hazy cloud and it was pleasantly warm – we sat and people watched and enjoyed the charms of Alnmouth. Opposite was a lovely delicatessen, full of cakes, pies and cheeses amongst other things. We got some food, wishing that there was a shop like this back home. We strolled up the High Street, admiring the attractive buildings, the little alleyways, the handsome church and the whole ambience. We could live here.
We found a little alleyway which eventually led us back to the Golf Club. The wind had picked up and there was a stiff breeze. We went back through the dunes and discovered that the tide had come in and there was just a slither beach left, the dog walkers, sandcastle building kids and picnicking parents heading elsewhere. We waddled back to the car along the little bit of beach available to us, dodging the incoming waves before heading into the car park, The Dog reluctantly leaping into the boot and looking wistfully at the sea. We decided to follow our noses – we can never go from A to B and back again – and headed up to Boulmer just up the road. We passed some fabulous “Grand Design” houses perched on a ridge so they had seaviews on one side and endless countryside on t’other. They were stunning. We came across Boulmer, a straggly hotch potch village of low buildings overlooking the sea. There was another car park and we was going to sit and watch three boats just offshore, but as we turned off down the track, two cars were gingerly reversing out, so we took that as a sign of the car park being full and abandoned the plan. so we meandered back to our cottage, across the beautiful Northumbrian countryside, down single track roads, past woodlands, fields and down steep hills. We stopped briefly to look the Brizlee Radar station and Brizlee Tower in the distance with our binoculars. The Radar Station is known locally as the Golf Ball and can be seen for miles.
We finally pick up the main road to Powburn and head back to the cottage. It’s been a lovely day of following our noses and discovering allsorts – our kind of day. We were still stuffed from lunch, the day had been very pleasant weatherwise (nice to feel some warmth) and we had seen more of Northumbria. Tomorrow we hoped to see our friend who owned the cottage to give her feedback and spend time with her. We snuggled down, tired, but happy.
A good night’s sleep. We awake about 6.30 and relax in bed, before taking The Dog to the toilet – there’s only a small paved courtyard and our hound likes a piece of grass – so we have to take her round the small block for her ablutions.
We have breakfast and decide to go for a walk up into the Breamish Valley, just west of Powburn. So we get ready and take the car, heading up the main road. I was driving again and Hubby resumed navigational duties, this time with his Apps on the phone. He tells me to turn left and we head down this narrow lane, with sheep fields either side. It’s very pleasant, though quite hazy and the sun is struggling to get out behind the clouds. We came to the lovely little hamlet of Branton with the traditional stone built single storey houses, joined as a terrace with a farmhouse and yard. It looks so peaceful, tranquil and idyllic until we spot the iron legs of a pylon in the next field and see them disappearing into the distance. What a blot on the landscape – I have a real hatred for them, especially in areas of natural beauty, but they are, alas, a necessary evil. We carried onto through the hamlet until the road split – one a dead end, the other with national speed limit signs, so I head down there. We hadn’t gone far when Hubby declared that it was classed as a green lane and had a ford at the bottom. Green lanes are usually only negotiable by 4×4 vehicles, not a little Yaris. The road surface was tarmacked to certain degree and was something to be desired, with badly repaired potholes, that I feared bits would drop off the car and I would be in the garage with a broken suspension. It gave the car a good workout. We went round a corner, where the road became more of a dirt track and stoppped. We had arrived at the ford, which was basically the wide, free flowing River Breamish and there was no chance that my little car would get through it. Hubby was quite excited as it would be great crossing for the Land Rover which wasn’t helpful, so we turned around and retraced our steps all the way back to the main road. Sigh.
We turned left again at the next turning which was marked “Ingram”, the place where we were heading. The road followed the valley bottom, a classic flood plain, flat and wide with cows grazing the pasture. Bright yellow gorse was flowering and the first hints of the vivid lime green of the hawthorn were showing. The hazy cloud hung low on the hills, hiding the Cheviot fells in the distance. We came across Ingram, another small hamlet where there was parking, a cafe and walks, but our spot was further up. As we drove through, we were alarmed at the devastation of Storm Arwen late last year. It tore through the county of Northumbria, ripping up trees and here there was a long line of mature trees lying on their sides, their root plates 90 degrees to the ground and leaving a deep crater. We had seen lots of this since we had arrived and hadn’t really appreciated how much damage the storm had caused. It was a real eye opener.
We parked in a small car park next door to the National Parks Visitor Centre at Bulby’s Wood and got ready. It was quite quiet but there were several cars here already. We got ourselves sorted and started our walk, crossing the road onto the fell and immediately had to deal with a steep track. It got the heart going. Soon it levelled out and we walked along a relatively flat section – now we had some height and got good views, though the clouds could lift a bit more. There was more climbing to do until we reached the derelict hill fort of Brough Law. There was nothing left but heaps and heaps of stone, but you could see the outline of the foundations and a wall. The fort had an almost 360 degree view, so there was no excuse for not seeing someone sneaking up on you. All around us, were high remote fells and peering into the haze, you could just about see even more higher moors in the distance. We followed the well marked grassy path towards Ewe Hill, feeling very isolated. Even though we were quite close to civilisation, we felt we were on a high remote fellside with miles of undulating moorland and peaks. The sun tried hard to beat the cloud and we could feel the extra warmth. It wasn’t particularly cold – we had no coats on – but it was lovely when the sun briefly bobbed out. We turned left at Ewe Hill, and the path began to drop back down. The area was scattered with cairns, enclosures and old settlements, there was a lot of history here. We stopped briefly to admire the view down the valley, Ingram nestling in the trees. We carried on, meeting a group of people hauling themselves up the incline. The walk was only about 2.5 miles, but we are aware of our hound’s limited capabilities and that was just enough for her. We dropped down back onto the tarmac road and headed back to the car park. On the way, we acknowledged a passing walker with a huge rucksack and wearing full waterproofs, despite the warm weather and no hint of rain. The next thing we knew, he had stopped and started chatting to us which was nice, but we had a feeling, after he had mentioned he was a long distance walk, that he was missing human company and was keen to engage with anyone willing to listen. He was a nice enough chap and finally we said our goodbyes, noting that he was also wearing numerous layers underneath his waterproofs. We were hot with just a base layer and a walking hoodie, so he must of been melting.
The car park and surrounding area had got significantly busier – we could see a straggle of panting walkers trudging up where we had first started, several cars at a time were squeezing past each other on the single track road and as we reached the car park, the large grassy area next door had large family groups, picnic blankets sprawled on the grass, food and drink spread out, the children shrieking in the river as they paddled and the adults sat in garden chairs. And this was on a warmish Saturday over Easter – imagine the height of summer. A converted horse box had set up a pop up food stall and we hoped for a coffee and a piece of cake before we moved on, but on closer inspection, it specialised in burgers of all descriptions and had a small gaggle of customers. It kind of summed it all up. Where was the candy floss and inflatables. It was kind of jarring against the beauty of the area along with the steady stream of vehicles. It wasn’t really our cup of tea today, so a quick visit to the river where The Dog reluctantly dipped her paws and took a mouthful of water – she usually loves a good paddle, but think she was in the same frame of mind as us – we jumped into the car and headed to Ingram’s cafe just up the road.
This was a far better experience, a proper cafe with a wide ranging menu, located in a lovely old building opposite the church. We ordered sandwiches and a coffee and sat in their little enclosed garden. The sun had disappeared again and the clouds were heavy. We spotted our waterproofed walker again and hoped that he didn’t strike up conversation again, but he was enjoying his lunch. We decided to check out Wooler, further north and meandered through the back roads, getting shaken by the potholes and staring in disbelief at woodlands decimated by fallen trees. It was amazing no houses were damaged – trees had been broken in half or just keeled over, taking neighbours with them. It was incredible. We dropped down into Wooler, a small town with a pretty high street, but it was a quiet Saturday afternoon and suddenly we didn’t fancy wandering around a High Street. Sorry Wooler. So we decided to go on a tour and take in more of Northumbria and so with Hubby in charge of navigating, we kind of ran alongside the Devils Causeway, an old Roman Road, passing hamlets, fields of cows, sheep and newborn lambs, admiring long distance views. We came up to the village of Eglingham, not far from our cottage and decided to have a pint as the sun had reappeared and it was pleasantly warm. A pint in the beer garden, sunning ourselves sounded a good idea. Of course, by the time we got our beer and got outside, a big black cloud had gobbled up the sun and we had lost that extra heat. Hubby challenged me to a game of swingball tennis and we started a game. The Dog decided to disown us at this point and took herself off while I tried to hit the ball back without losing the paddle over the wall or get clonked on the head by the returning ball. We had a good 10 minutes of silliness before we exhausted ourselves and jumped back into the car. We fancied heading back and sitting in the little courtyard, reading books or writing this blog with a cuppa. So we piled back into the car and drove back to Powburn via an antiques showroom on the outer edge of the village – we are easily distracted. We wandered around, wondering how much junk we humans create and continue to create. We are a wasteful species, but hey enough of that. We got back to the cottage, noting that next door to the antiques place was a petrol station, a convenience store and a post office, all a short walk from where we were staying. Useful. So we put the kettle on, made a cuppa and sat on the outside chairs, listening to the birdsong and relaxing before tea. This is the life.
It was a bit of a first night. I always have an unsettled first night due to it being a strange bed, though holiday beds always seem cosier and more comfortable than your own bed, so why I struggle I don’t know. I finally nodded off and slept to 6am.
We got up slowly, making a cup of tea and relaxing. After a shower and breakfast we decided to head out in the car and aimed for a little town of Warkworth near the coast. A few months ago we had visited the same friend and we had whizzed through this charming town on the way to somewhere else and felt it warranted more of our attention, rather than a blur from a car window. Also we owed The Dog big style after she had holidayed with our daughter and we dog sat a friend’s dog. The Dog was not impressed to come home to find the scent of a strange dog everywhere and had worn a peeved expression ever since . So to make it up to her we promised her a beach.
So The Hubby jumped into the passenger seat and declared himself the navigator for the day which frankly is disturbing at the best of times as he has a habit of finding the narrowest roads possible to send me down, usually with a crop of grass running down the middle. Today, he had dug out a 20 year old+ OS map and decided he was going to navigate his way to Warkworth by this method rather than by satnav. Almost immediately he plunged me down a single track road, which rose up to a ruined tower at Crawley Farm, a rather grand edifice with a splendid viewpoint, overlooking misty valleys and high hills, so he was kind of let off the hook. We continued with lots of lefts and rights, weaving around deep potholes and hoping that we wouldn’t meet a farmer and his tractor, though Hubby found me a ford to traverse in my little car. It was at this point I wondered where my air intake was located before I gunned it. It wasn’t deep (thanks to a roadside depth stick) and we crossed it with ease – but a little bit of excitement! It was a lovely route – we saw hares darting into the hedgerows and unnerving passings of pheasants, an unpredictable bird who has a tendency to dither whether to fly into the safety of adjacent field or play chicken and do a last minute dash across your path. Not fancying a large pheasant embedded into my car’s grille, I crept past them and thankfully, all of them chose the more sensible option. There were signs for red squirrels too, these elusive natives of our islands, warning drivers to take care. It’s on my bucket list to see one of these creatures in the wild. We carried on down uncategorised back lanes, finally reaching Alnwick, a delightful little town full of independent shops. We didn’t stop – that was another day’s adventure – and popped out the other side. After a brief and unexpected visit to the A1 finding ourselves heading inadvertently towards Scotland, we got back on track at the next exit and finally reached the outskirts of Warkworth with its impressive castle sitting high on top of a hill at the end of the village. We pulled off down a single track lane heading towards the golf course and the beach. A large gravelly car park with free toilets and free parking greeted us. We piled out, got organised and headed down the path. A sea mist which had enveloped us for the last 5/6 miles of our trip, remained persistent and as the path turned into sand, seeped between the dunes.
Finally the beach opened up. The mist was thick here – you could hear the sea, but couldn’t see it. We unleashed The Dog and suddenly the 14 year old hound who had walked slowly with us, gambolled across the sands like a puppy, the biggest smile on her face. She is at her happiest on the beach and her face showed her delight. We just laughed at her antics – I think we are forgiven. We walked along as the sun tried its hardest to poke its head through the mist and burn it off. The mist lifted letting us see the sand dunes on one side and the surf on the other. Other people were on the beach too, every one accompanied by a hound of some description. It was Dog City. The beach was wonderful – you cannot beat a Northumbrian beach – wide with beautiful soft sand scattered with shells, stones and lumps of coal. We strolled for about a kilometre before turning around and retracing our steps, the mist dropping back down again. We decided to walk into town, leaving the car in the car park and walking along a footpath. We bobbed out by the main road and the River Coquet, crossed over the bridge and started the long pull uphill, along the main street up to the Castle, keeping a beady eye for a cafe. Warkworth is a handsome little town, full of stone cottages huddled in a small valley and quite delightful. There was a small cluster of shops which we peered into as we walked up to the Castle, perched high on the hill, overlooking miles of surrounding countryside. Its quite imposing. We wandered around the periphery – it’s in the ownership of English Heritage – as we weren’t in the mood for going inside. A group of children were egg rolling down the hill, it being Eastertime, screaming in delight. We admired the castle surrounded by a mass of daffodils (oh for a sunny spring day to really bring out the colours) as we went round and headed back to the High Road and waddled back down. Cars were parked on either side of the street and there was a constant stream of traffic roaring through, spoiling the beautiful stone weathered cottages lining the street. It was a real shame. It’s so full of character.
We started earnestly looking for a coffee, and found Bertrams in a handsome building. We sat down, The Dog settling under the table and ordered coffees, an Egg Royale, a bacon sarnie and an extra sausage for The Dog, like you do. It was very busy, we had to wait for a table, but it was very ambient inside and we enjoyed our brunch. We decided to head to Amble down the road, where on our last visit we had enjoyed a splendid evening meal at a fish restaurant. We fancied some fresh fish for tea. So we wandered back to the car, stopping briefly at a viewpoint overlooking the town, its lovely houses huddled together, a jumble of roofs and chimneys in between the river and a wooded hillside. We drove through Warkworth’s decidedly busy main street, weaving in and out of cars, heading to Amble just a few miles down the road.
Amble hugs the coastline, a sizeable community with a docks, a harbour with a sea wall and a large industrial area. As we found our way to the docks, we passed street after street of long terraces of stone cottages, a reminder of Amble’s history of hardworking fishermen. Unsympathetic town planning had burdened Amble with ugly and cheap looking buildings that now looked shabby and even uglier and it looked like a town down on its luck, another seaside community struggling like so many others. But as we arrived by the docks, it was bustling with people wandering around. We joined the throngs and strolled past fishing boats unloading and sorting out their nets.. We walked past the The Fish Shack, a well known restaurant that was featured on The Hairy Bikers TV programme and was now heaving with people tucking into various dishes. Fancy new buildings were dotted around. We found a fishmonger’s and bought a bag of mussels and some crab before looking at their large containers full of water a few feet from the fish counter, one full of live lobsters and the other with tiny tiny infant lobsters. I felt quite sorry for them – their lives and ultimately their destiny. I don’t know how these people can go up to a tank full of crustaceans or fish to point and say “I’ll have that one” and find the marked creature lying on their plate 20 minutes later (though I am a pescatarian and happily orders fish from my local fishmonger’s, I just can’t pick them out individually knowing their fate and then spending my entire meal apologising and feeling guilty). We carried on investigating this area, a mixture of upmarket eating places and little wooden cabins selling upmarket gifts and street food, sitting easily beside the nitty gritty environment of a shrunken fishing industry. We found the restaurant we visited a few months ago, where we enjoyed a splendid fish platter which was reasonably expensive and that was full of people too. Tall trendy clapboarded apartment buildings lined the edge giving the docks a gentrified feel, smart cafes in their basements, but again, abutting little neglected tatty areas. We wandered to the town centre and main shopping centre, the street lined on both sides with shops which looked interesting. We walked down one side and up the other and again it was a town at odds with itself. It was busy. There were smart independent shops sitting alongside tattoo studios, betting shops and charity shops. Some shops were empty and boarded up, paint peeling and looking shabby, a bit of a blot while others looking like they hadn’t seen a paintbrush in the last twenty years. There seemed to be an inordinate amount of hairdressers, nail bars and outlets for the high maintenance woman, but with a background air of economic hardship. Apart from a small Tescos and a Co-op at each end of the street, every shop was an independent which was brilliant. Our friend had told us that Amble was up and coming and you could see that happening with the new buildings in the dock area and the trendy and tasteful shop fronts on the High Street. We hoped that the transformation continued, Amble certainly needed an upturn on its fortunes, but not to the detriment of the locals, their little self sufficient town turned into a tourist trap. It was just lovely to see it bustling and being supported. I love finding little places like this, ordinary, a little down at heel, but are actually thriving communities and bucking the trends. We happily did our own bit of supporting by visiting the local greengrocer and bakery and sauntered back, past the town square with fancy cobbles, herring bone brickwork and embellished stones. We watched a trawler upload and discovered a small beach by the harbour before finding the car again.
We were also on a mission today. We had a coffee and cake voucher for the Running Fox bakery and were determined to try them out. There are apparently four branches scattered around the area, so we chose the Shilbottle premises and with Hubby using his trusted paper map, we threaded our way through Amble’s many endless streets of terraced housing, past those ugly corporation buildings that begged for a stick of dynamite, managed to avoid the horrendous tail back we past on the way in and headed out into the country. The mist had lifted, but cloud had taken over and it was overcast. We pondered Amble’s history and existence and wondered if coal mining was a factor too – did coalmining come this far north? To answer our question, we passed a couple of communities with the word “coal” in their names and we decided that coal, fishing and docks were intrinsically linked. We drove over Northumbria’s gentle rolling hills, past woodlands, stately homes and little hamlets. We despaired at horrible little housing estates stuck unceremoniously on the end of charming villages with no effort to blend the carbuncles with the existing cottages (no chimneys to start with – one of my bug bears) and the devastation of woodlands after Storm Arwen late last year. The sun made another attempt to poke its head out as we arrived in Shilbottle and we found the Running Fox. We parked in the car park at the rear and waddled to the front where there were picnic tables, but nobody was sitting outside. We toyed with the idea of sitting outside too and so I was sent in, clutching the voucher and with an order of coffee and a scone. Well, I went in and was greeted with a chill cabinet full of the most delicious looking cakes and bakes. I just stopped and stared, and possibly dribbled, knowing that Hubby would divorce me if I ordered just a scone and not show him this venerable display of gooeyness. So I explained that I had to drag Hubby in, but we had a dog, but they happily invited us all in and offered us a table for two. So I called in both man and dog and Hubby’s eyes lit up when he saw so many flapjacks, sponges and cakes – we spent many minutes agonising which cake to order. Finally, we sat a high table with coffee, our chosen slab of deliciousness and made very satisfied noises as we sank our teeth into rather large slices of desserts. Even The Dog was looked after with a bowl of water and a chew. We were very happy and even happier knowing that the voucher allowed us a second visit – we would recover from this one first though!
Feeling rather podgy, but immensely satisfied (hell, we’re on holiday) we waddled back to the car and snaked our way cross country back to our little cottage. It’s very rural around here with a scattering of small villages and tiny hamlets. We dropped down back into Powburn, realising how dinky this community was and happily slumped on the sofa, lit the wood burning fire and snuggled down with our mussels, crab and bread we had bought in Amble and a glass of wine. The Dog curled up in the dog basket and slept soundly, after gobbling up her dinner. Tomorrow there were more adventures to look forward to!
We have a lovely friend who has recently moved to Northumbria and purchased a small holiday let. She had diligently decorated it and got it all ready, but needed a pair of guinea pigs to give it a final once over before it goes public, so she gave us a call.
So on a warmish, but overcast late Thursday afternoon in April, once we had finished work, we piled our luggage and a surprised Dog into the car and set off in a north easterly direction. We seemed to have packed for a month’s trekking in the Himalayas rather than just 5 days in northern England, with an assortment of bags piled high on the back seat of Newcastle, but this being England, you have to pack for every weather condition imaginable, knowing that you will get at least two of them in one day!
We drove on back roads for some reason (flipping Satnavs) and then finally found ourselves on the M6 motorway heading towards Carlisle. We picked up the A69 which abruptly sent us eastwards, managed to miss a couple of turnings, so ended up skirting the west of Newcastle, ploughed up the A1 before forking off and heading towards the little village of Powburn. We arrived around 7.30, managing to miss the entrance as we hadn’t looked at the instructions and after doing a nifty U turn, parked outside, feeling rather excited.
I love the feeling of opening the door of your holiday home and seeing it in real time. We walked into a large kitchen diner and did a quick investigation of the rooms before emptying the car of the many bags and hunger started to take hold. The cottage is small, compact and beautiful with exposed stone walls and beams, it oozes charm and cosiness. It’s lovely. While pizzas and garlic bread cooked gently in the oven we nested, opened a bottle of wine and toasted the start of a long overdue break .This was perfect. We snuggled down in the lounge and relaxed for the rest of the evening. Tomorrow we begin our holiday cottage road test and start to think where we can go and explore.
We woke up on the last day of our holiday to another bright sunny day. We ate the last of the biscuits and made our morning cuppa. We were getting sloppy and we’re now just chucking stuff back in The Van, as we headed off to our friend’s holiday cottage, parking up outside. We were going on a walk up Wansfell.
We put on our walking boots and rucksacks, heading up the road via footpaths, with a brief diversion to a waterfall. We all clambered over a stile to be faced with stone steps leading all the way to the summit of Wansfell. It was a steady pull with quite a few stops to admire the expanding view, of course. (rather than the sadder excuse of gasping for breath and needing many minutes to recover). Finally the summit hoved into view and gave us an outstanding 360 degree view including Kirkstone Pass, Lake Windermere and in the far distance, Morecambe Bay. We huddled down behind some rocks to have a drink and nibble cake, it was quite windy and cool here when Hubby discovered that it wasn’t actually a Wainwright hill and headed off to another nearby hill which was the official one, to bag it. We declined to follow him and so after a little while, packed away our food and started down the steady path towards Troutbeck. A steady stream of people were walking up here too. We met Hubby by the green lane further down, one happy man who had crossed another Wainwright off his list and together we walked down to the village.
Wainwrights are the 214 hills in the Lake District described by Alfred Wainwright in seven books.
The tearoom was shut on a Monday, so there was only one option – head to the pub. It was really warm and we found a large table in the beer garden, ordered alcohol and food and bathed in the warm sunshine. The Dog crashed under the table – she had walked 7 miles yesterday and now she was on a 6 mile walk. She was really tired. We enjoyed a lovely plate of food and then waddled off, hoping the walk might burn off those extra calories! We walked through the pretty village, full of classic stone built Lakeland homes – that dark slate colour. We peeled off up a track and contoured along, overlooking Lake Windermere. There were some beautiful views to be had. Finally we dropped into a wood and onto a tarmacked road, where gradually more and more houses appeared and we were on the edge of Ambleside again. We pulled ourselves up that long hill to the cottage and finally pulled off our walking boots and had a cuppa. We had done 7 miles.
We headed off home – only an hour’s drive away – and unpacked the Van of our holiday detritus. Tomorrow would be a day of heaps of washing and back to work, but we had had a fabulous time. It had seemed we had been away forever, we had no arguments, everything worked, nothing got broken, the weather had been good (considering it was Scotland in October) and even The Dog was happy. We had seen many rainbows, otters, seals and the most amazing scenery. It had been a very successful trip and we could of carried on.
We know it won’t be long before we’re off in our little Van for another fun adventure and we just can’t wait.
The day dawned to a bright sunny day, a crisp autumnal morning with beautiful colours. We had a plan to walk from the caravan site, but before we did, we hung up a washing line and hung all our damp walking gear from yesterday between two trees. It was only later, while hanging outside the shop, I read the site rules and discovered the washing lines were banned. Ooops.
I went to have a shower in the ablution block and what a delight. It had underfloor heating, was large and roomy and was spotless. I enjoyed my shower, got dressed and then, with a rubber broom, brushed the excess water on the floor towards the drain and left it tidy for the next person. It’s amazing that if you just leave something like that, people do use it and clean up after themselves – no need for stern notices or reminders. It is just happens. So I returned back to the Van a new and happy woman and prepared for our walk. Our damp gear was pretty much dried, so we took down our line, locked the Van and headed through the gate a few yards away.
We turned right and trotted almost immediately into the small hamlet of Skelwith Fold, with the most amazing views down the valley. It was stunning. We followed the little lane down to Skelwith Bridge and diced with danger as we walked a few yards along the main road to pick up a footpath. It dropped between houses and gardens into a little woodland before picking up the main footpath to Elterwater. This was a broad gravelled path, with a multitude of people on it – families, couples, dog walkers. It followed the side of Elter Water along the Cumbria Way through gates. It was a nice walk but so many people, but this is the Lake District. If you walk on the low level paths, this is where you’ll find most of the tourists. So we strolled along in the sunshine and got to Elterwater. There was a pub but it was heaving with people sunning themselves. We weren’t ready to throw ourselves back into the hustle and bustle so we headed off to do a circular walk which would be quieter. So we wandered down the lane and came across another pub/hotel but couldn’t figure how to get in for a pint – there didn’t seem to be an obvious entrance despite numerous doors. We shrugged our shoulders and continued on – we had drink and snacks, so we wouldn’t die. We walked through a woodland and then dropped back into a field, starting to meet more walkers. It was a nice stroll through woodland, fields, farmyards and open hilltops. We dropped back into Skelwith Bridge and decided to head to Chesters, a cafe tucked in off the road. We walked up to it, slightly dismayed to see a long queue for the cafe and then again, around the corner, the takeaway had an equally long queue. It was heaving with squabbling dogs, crying kids and aimless tourists. We beat a hasty retreat and decided to head back to the Van and get food from the shop.
It was a bit of a haul back up the hill to the caravan site, but we got there. We got a few provisions and a newspaper and sat in the sun eating a picnic by the Van. It was very pleasant and lovely to relax. We had walked 5 miles.
With 5pm fast approaching, we got ready to meet our friends. We walked out the site and dropped back into the hamlet, but took a little lane that skirted the caravan site and gently dropped into Clappersgate. There were a couple of spots where we had to walk on the main road with no pavements, on alert for mad motorists. But at Clappersgate, there was a wide pavement all the way into Ambleside. Our friends holiday home was up a steep hill, so we negotiated a steep flight of steps and after a little head scratching, figured out how to get to their front door.
We spent a lovely evening catching up, eating and drinking, recounting our holiday adventures. We had booked a taxi for 11pm the week before and we had a few panicky minutes when we wondered if he would come. A quick phone call found him at a slightly different address as they had written down the wrong postcode, but it was soon amended and we soon stuffing The Dog in the front passenger well and piling in after her for the 10 minute drive back. We were pleased not to have to walk back in the dark! We tiptoed through the site to our little Van and settled down for our last night of our holiday.
We survived the night on our cliff top campsite just outside the village of Portpatrick – the wind still buffering us and there was rain in the air. It was a bit damp going to the ablution block. Hubby hadn’t been happy here since we arrived – being high on an exposed coast in unpleasant weather conditions wasn’t his cup of tea. We made an executive decision to move on to find somewhere else and decided to leave straightaway. We headed off without breakfast, after quickly and efficiently packing up.
Hubby had found Great Luce beach on the other side of the peninsula, thinking it would be a great place for a walk and stretch The Dog’s legs. So we drove through tiny lanes, surrounded by sheep pastures and stubby wind-bent trees. It was misty and murky with the drizzle, it seemed someone had plonked a Tupperware box over the area, it was that grey. It was quite windy too, the birds struggling against the wind. When they tried to land on the telephone wires, they would overshoot and let the wind push them back so they landed elegantly, clinging tightly onto the wire once they touched base – when they took off, they just got whipped off in the other direction. We ended up in the village of Sandhead and parked up on a vast stretch of grass bordering the beach. And what a splendid beach it is, possibly one of the best beaches in Britain. We donned wet weather gear including The Dog and stepped onto this vast arc of sand, stretching some 6 miles around Luce Bay. It was stunning even in the mizzle. We spotted, way out on the horizon, three stumpy lumps and decided to head towards them across the sands. The Dog was extremely happy, a big smile on her face and looking at us as if we were the best humans in the world. The drizzle and wind was on our backs, and we laughed at The Dog galloping around. We walked and walked, those three stumps refusing to come any nearer, remaining little dots out to sea. But we were determined to reach them regardless. The beach used to be a bombing practice area years ago and the old airfield nearby is disused but still under MoD ownership. We could see the control tower and other associated buildings sitting on the edge of the beach. So we bent our heads down and strolled across channels and sandbanks. The Dog started to give us quizzical looks “where the hell are you two going?”
We finally got within spitting distance of them before a deep channel stopped us in our tracks. The three structures were actually in the sea as well. From where we stood, they looked like three concrete conical towers stood in a line. They must of been the targets. It was a slight anticlimax after all that trudging. We stood for a minute or two and then turned around, directly into the wind and rain and beat a hasty retreat. Of course, the weather really closed in, the distant village of Sandhead disappeared and there was no way to escape it. It was a bit of a trudge, our heads down with the village not getting any closer, but finally we hit the grassy car park and The Van. We had walked 6.5km. We quickly stripped off, dried ourselves and decided to hunt down a full English/Scottish breakfast. Nearby Newton Stewart seemed an obvious town to find it. So we travelled along the country lanes, past sheep fields and pastures, little woods and hedges – things weren’t so stumpy and wind blown here, but it was reasonably flat. We decided that the white exterior paint market was the industry to be in around here – with all these white cottages, you would never be out of business! We picked up the A75, the main trunk road from the M74 motorway to Stranraer. We know this area a little bit as our daughter lived here for nearly a year in a nearby village and as we googled Newton Stewart cafes, she happened to text us over something different and we picked her brains.
Newton Stewart is a pretty bustling little town just off the A75, but it was busy as we drove through trying to spot eateries. We found the Riverside restaurant our daughter had recommended, next door to the Sainsburys supermarket, so parking was a lot easier. We gave them a quick call to check about dogs. Dogs were welcomed except between the hours of 12 noon and 2pm when they got busy over lunch. I glanced at the Van clock – 12:09. Ho hum, major rethink. Parking on the High Street looked a nightmare so we decided to continue to Gatehouse of Fleet which we knew had a cafe.
The cloud was so low by now, you couldn’t see the hills and mountains of this area. Even the pylons looked like they had been chopped in half, totally headless. It wasn’t pleasant at all. It’s very pretty around here with the coast, the villages, the mountains, estuaries and marshlands and the commercial tree plantations, managed by the Forestry Commission Scotland, but you just couldn’t see to admire it. We jumped back onto the A75, when I saw signs for Kirroughtree Visitor Centre in the Galloway Forest Park. Our daughter had also recommended that, so we turned up a little single lane and headed into the woodland. We were starving. We found ourselves in a large car park with a modern wooden Visitor Centre. It was the hub for walking and biking through the forest as well as other activities. It was also a Dark Skies centre for star gazing and to our delight, you could camp overnight in the car park if you were prepared to be off grid. Oh why didn’t we find out about this earlier? However we resolved that we would return without dog, but with bikes and do a weekend here.
We scampered to the cafe. They didn’t do full English breakfasts, but a sausage bap and coffee sufficed. Why is it when you’re really wanting something, you can never find it? The Visitor Centre was light and airy with information boards along the walls showing the bike and walking routes. Happy, we returned to the Van and picked the A75 back towards the motorway – it was still miserable, still raining, a day of curling up on a sofa, fire on and sleeping, though the low cloud had lifted and we could see further afield. We decided to head to Ambleside, where we were due to meet some more friends the following night. It was getting late, so we carried along the A75 following the coastline of Dumfries and Galloway overlooking the Solway Firth, the flat marshes to our right. We passed the town of Dumfries where our other daughter, when she was young, innocently and endearingly mispronounced it as Dumb Fries. When we stopped laughing hysterically much to her mystification, we told her it was pronounced “Dumfrieze” and since then have always referred to it as Thick Chips in her company, much to her annoyance.
Soon we were on the motorway and within minutes passed back into England, just beyond Gretna Green. We pulled off at the Keswick turn off and headed west towards that town, the lovely and beautiful Lake District mountains starting to loom into view. We cut a corner off and popped up just north of Grasmere and followed the valley down, passing the lakes. Cars were parked everywhere – in lay-bys and lanes. A few people were walking as if they were in a town – fashion wear and umbrellas, their car probably only a few hundred yards away while they admired the lakes and fell sides. But it was just so pretty with the trees just starting to turn. We entered Ambleside, full of tourists milling around and a few bedraggled walkers just coming off the hills and followed the satnav through town and out the other side. We were looking for our camp site at Skelwith – it seemed so far out of Ambleside (we were due to walk in to meet the friends. After a little research it transpired to be 2.2 miles away, a 40 minute walk which would be perfect). Finally we hit the entrance and followed a seemingly endless road to the reception area and checked in. This was a lovely site, mainly devoted to static caravans, but with four areas for tourers like us. We could go off and chose our own pitch, so off we went to check it out and ended up pitching up on a corner, near the toilet block. Though it felt a bit crowded, there was still lots of room between us all. It was a good spot.
So we nested, got all our sodden walking stuff out and hung it from door handles and door edges, hoping it would dry. It was still drizzling, but we were under a tree and so sheltered. We looked like Widow Twankey’s and all her laundry. We had a plan – order pizza (the local takeaway delivered to the site), then go to the site shop to get beer and watch “Strictly Come Dancing”. We timed it perfectly – I went to the well stocked shop for the beers – it had most things covered while Hubby and The Dog went to meet the pizza delivery man. It was a lovely site sheltered in the trees, little off shoots with static caravans arranged neatly. It was quite a substantial site, slowly working its way up the hill. It was a very well run too – it even had an outdoor dishwasher!!! It was the most expensive site of the whole trip, but well worth it – everything was clean, tidy, well maintained and I didn’t have my usual reservations about the showers.
So we collected our pizzas and went back to the Van to consume them. I suffered another culinary disaster when my ordered vegetarian pizza arrived as a basic Magherita! Where’s me vegetables? I couldn’t believe it, but as I couldn’t change it, I ate it anyway.
It was still quite warm, so we sat with the side door open, The Dog lying on her mat, watching people and dogs wander past for late night wee walks. It was supposed to be nice tomorrow so we could have a chill day and maybe a quick walk before meeting the friends. We closed our door and settled down for the night.
Sorry for the lack of photos today – the day just wasn’t conducive for pictures – so clagged with cloud and rain, there was no views to be had!
The morning is warm, but a foggy mist has descended and it’s very damp. Tea and biscuits in bed – I’m dreading getting back on the scales back home with all this decadence – before doing our morning rituals. We’re heading to Dumfries and Galloway after our lovely host, suggested Portpatrick, near Stranraer as a lovely spot. It’s nearly five hours away.
We headed out onto the Fort William road, it’s quite misty here, bordering on foggy – driving in and out of little banks of lingering mist, but as we head towards Fort William, it starts to lift and leaves wisps of cloud drifting and meandering between the mountains, all very atmospheric. It’s beautiful. We stopped at Fort William to top up with fuel and headed down to Ballachulish and onto Glencoe. The sun tries to come out, lighting up the valleys. The colours are amazing – really deep enhanced browns and greens, with purples and blues in the shadows. This is nature at its best. Photos just don’t capture the panoramic beauty here, the views, the colours changing constantly- you just can’t keep up. We entered Glencoe, a fabulous valley of steep sided mountains and far reaching views. We passed the Glencoe Ski Centre and dropped into Rannoch Moor, an inhospitable bog area with small lochs dotted with islands. It is beautifully desolate – a nearby mountain has fingers of cloud covering its summit, as if it would be ripped off any minute. Around the corner, it had changed – now it looked like a witches boiling cauldron, the magical vapours of the potion overspilling down the sides. If we had done that train trip today, it would of been spectacular. As we headed to Tyndrum, it got dark and broody – the predicted bad weather with warnings of heavy rain was coming over. We passed through Tyndrum and onto Crianlarich, our lunch destination for yesterday.
Passing Loch Lomond, the heavens truly opened and you could barely see the loch. Just a blanket of mist. We have followed the A82 road since Fort William, an interesting road to say the least. A two lane stretch of tarmac, up in the glens its road surface is suffering in parts – either potholed or badly repaired – the Van doesn’t appreciate such impediments and makes us wince as it bounces noisily over them. But it gives us a good ride most of the way. Hugging the side of Loch Lomond, it gets very narrow in places – a rock wall one side and the waters of the loch on the other (albeit with barriers). Huge lorries use this road too, so despite the speed limit being an official 50mph, (not that you want to do 50 in the first place) you’re lucky to do more than 30 and usually crawl as some terrified tourist squeezes past a hulking truck whose driver is so used to this road, that he barely touches his brakes. It’s an interesting road to say the least and not one of our favourites. At Tarbet, a good two thirds down, it opens up into a proper wide standard road, the frustrated held up driver overtaking with abandon after being stuck behind traffic for so long.
We rock up to the edge of Dunbarton, a satellite town of Glasgow, which throws you, without much warning, straight into urbanisation – retail parks, McDonalds, drive thru Costa Coffees and road madness. It’s a bit of a wake up call after the sedentary life we had been following. The rain has eased again and starting to brighten up – we negotiated the Erskine Bridge and the M8 motorway slicing through Glasgow, the traffic starting to snarl up. Drivers swap lanes constantly – it’s mayhem. Get us out of here! Glasgow seems to be a sprawling city – it looks like as if it was dropped from a height and it went splat – it seems endless. We pulled off to join the M77, taking us south into Ayrshire and the west coast, the traffic finally easing. It’s undulating countryside, a mix of pasture and stubby grassland. We bypassed the town of Ayr and hit the coast road . The weather and the views are improving. The countryside is constantly changing now – distant hills, farmland, deep valleys and a coastal road with spectacular views along a rugged rocky coastline with waves crashing. Out to sea was Alisa Craig, an uninhabited island home to gannets and puffins, looking like it had been plonked into the Irish Sea. It looked very majestic.
We drove past the big ferry terminals of Cairnryan – one operated by Stenaline to Belfast and other P&O to Larne before dropping into Stranraer. The satnav seemed to take us on a tour of the back streets before burping us back out into countryside. We then turned right for the 5 mile journey into Portpatrick – we don’t go through the village, but circumvented it to the various static caravan sites that sit on the edge of the village. It’s not singing what that lady had suggested. We turned into the final site, slightly frayed at the edges and checked in. We’re directed to the far end of the site, on a field overlooking the sea with about ten other caravans/motorhomes. We couldn’t get a pitch with electric and end up on a hard standing area, more akin to a small car park, well away from the others. It looked like we had fallen out with everybody. We didn’t feel comfortable – there was no protection from the elements, totally exposed. We had booked two nights here and mulled whether to go back to reception, ask for our money back and find somewhere else, but after travelling all day and gasping for a cuppa, we resolved to stay at least one night, eventually electing to camp nearer to our fellow campers on a grassy area, but still feeling very much Billy No Mates.
We checked out the ablution block, a shabby affair of peeling paint and seeing better days. We stood outside hesitantly – this could be grim inside, but once inside, it was very clean and tidy though a little dated. We found out later that a new block was under construction – a little way up, an unrendered rectangular building stood, obviously not quite ready for our arrival, but not far off. The existing loo block had a fantastic Covid system (Scotland are still quite strict) whereby you took a stone out of the saucepan next to the entrance and took it with you inside. This signified to the next person wanting the facilities that someone was already in there and they had to wait til you came out. When you finished, you just returned the stone back into the saucepan which was filled with water to clean it. The girls had a pan with a white stone, the boys had a separate pan with a black stone. A strange but novel way of social distancing, but it worked.
We decided to walk into the village about half an hour along a coastal footpath, past the ruined castle of Duneskey, clinging to the edge of the cliff. The path dropped down onto the disused railway, walking through the deep cutting before popping us above the village. We walked down a lane past a rather fancy hotel/restaurant and checked it out. Sorry no dogs. We dropped further down into a pretty curving harbour surrounded by equally pretty cottages. There’s a dinky little beach and people are paddle boarding in the calm waters. Beyond the harbour, waves are crashing against the walls and rocks. I’ve finally found the traditional Scottish village that I’ve been looking for on this trip, (we actually drove through one earlier on the coast road, it’s name escaping me), the one I’d expected to see in the Highlands and here it was, on the southwestern corner of Scotland.
We wandered around, checking out the harbour and a little craggy outcrop it was attached too, a Scottish flag flapping in the wind. We climbed the steps up the other side to find out what the huge building was on top of the hill – rather nice looking hotel – and wandered back down to the front. Halfway up the hill towards the back of the village, a circular school building stood out, with a dull red metal roof. It didn’t quite fit in. Perhaps a grey roof or one of those eco friendly grassy ones would of been more appropriate. It was a small blot in a lovely little spot.
We were hankering for fish and chips to eat on a bench, overlooking the harbour and the sea beyond, but upon enquiring we discovered the village lacking in such an establishment though it had about six pubs/restaurants/eating places. We studied their outside menus, but nothing was jumping out. We had already eaten out last night. We agreed to go back to the Van to finish off a bottle of wine and have a picky tea with what was left in the fridge. We sauntered back up the hill and along another path, looking down onto the sea. On a clear day, you can apparently see Ireland. We set up the Van, it was quite windy up here with nothing to stop it – we had parked the Van with its bum facing the wind, so we should be okay popping the roof up. We still weren’t 100% happy perched on this windy site and the weather wasn’t looking too great for tomorrow – maybe we will move on and head closer to Ambleside where we were due to stay in two days time to meet friends. We made our picky tea, drank our wine and after a while, set up the bed so we could watch tv on the iPad, wrapped up in our sleeping bags. It had been a long day travelling – it takes ages just to get from Fort William to Glasgow. So with the wind whistling around us, we settled down for the night!
I like lying in bed while camping, all snuggled up listening to rain pattering on roofs and canvas. There’s just something about it.
The day dawns overcast and with a drizzle in the air. We’re in no rush today, a day without moving or driving as we’ve decided to stay another night. It’s just a lovely campsite, clean, tidy and spacious. We fancy a train trip and with the railway station about five minutes away, we have worked out the train times to Crianlarich, a small community north of Loch Lomond some 60 miles away, purely as we know there’s a lovely cafe on the station platform there. Trains in this part of the world are few and far between (about 4 a day) so the options are extremely limited, but have figured that if we caught the 12.02 from Roy Bridge, that would give us about an hour in Crianlarich for lunch before catching the 14.35 back again. Perfect.
So we lazed in bed, The Dog snuggling up to us (this doesn’t happen very often, so we make the most of it) having our usual cuppa. The rain keeps easing off, teasing us and then returning as a downpour. We organised the Van, put our wet weather stuff on and wandered down the lane to the railway station. We stopped to chat to the owner, a lovely lady, who asked us if we’ve got everything we need and just to give her a yell if we haven’t. So friendly and eager to help. We’ll come back to this place. So feeling happy we make our way to the railway station.
It’s a single track railway line with a single platform adorned with the corporate station furniture and colours of Scotrail. All things metal, either bare grey or painted with a special shade of blue that only monolithic companies seem to like. A standard template for all stations regardless of their location. Another of my bugbears.
It had an electronic information board scrolling times and safety notices. Paying a little more attention to it, we realised our 12.02 was delayed by about 15 minutes due to flooding elsewhere. That was a bit annoying, cutting our stay down to about 45 minutes, but it was still viable. The train from Glasgow, itself some 15 minutes late, pulled in from the other direction, The Dog barking at it furiously. (She does this with trains and then happily gets on them – weird dog). This is a good sign, we thought, our train will be next, but the overhead board changed again and our train wasn’t expected til 12:41! Oh really? We did the maths – we would have about 20 minutes at Crianlarich now, maybe more if the return train was delayed too, but let’s still run with it. Not wanting to hang around at the station in the rain for half a hour and having exhausted playing with the interactive Caledonian Sleeper noticeboard in the shelter, we headed off onto the Main Street of Roy Bridge to see what that had to offer. Not a lot but we discovered another pub and a quick Google told us that it was dog friendly. Perfect – train trip and then pub!
We also found the cafe our friendly site owner had mentioned. We weren’t ready for a coffee just yet, so wandered back to the railway station and waited for our train, checking the train app on our phones for more information as well as killing time. With some dismay, with minutes of arrival, the time was pushed back again to 12:48 reducing our time at Crianlarich down to 10 minutes. That was cutting it a bit fine. Do we go and risk missing that return train, stranded in Cairnlarich until the next train at 8pm? How would we get back if we didn’t want to wait 6 hours – it was 60 miles away and there is no bus service.
We stood there in a lather – we so wanted to go, but it was turning to be rather stressful. We tried to work out other options – getting off at Tyndrum instead, but that still didn’t really work. The weather was foul now, the clouds dropping low so the fantastic views over Rannoch Moor would be covered in mist and cloud and anyway train windows are always grubby and would be steamed up in that weather. With the train due any minute, we made our final decision. Knock it on the head and go and find something else to do. To console ourselves, we walked down to the cafe for lunch only to discover that they didn’t let dogs in. The day wasn’t going well. We looked at our maps, trying to work out where we could go. Didn’t fancy Fort William – a big town and we weren’t ready to hit crowds, shops and bustle. Spean Bridge was a tiny village. A walk in the rain didn’t appeal at all. Bus ride? The next bus was two hours away. With shoulders sagging we trudged back to the Van.
This was the last thing we wanted to do. Sit in the Van in the rain, feeling cooped up. The only thing it made us do,was to make getting an awning our Van a top priority. Since getting the Van late last year, we had been gradually adding bits and pieces as we used it more, but this trip confirmed that an awning was essential – we could of, at least, sat outside under it now as it was quite warm (15 degrees despite the rain) rather than huddled on top of each other. Our provisions would make a pathetic lunch too, so annoyingly we got the Van ready to drive somewhere – the last thing we had planned.
We drove east along the A86, looking and hoping for a cafe or similar. There were no villages at all along this road, which hugged a reservoir and Loch Lagan. Finally after many miles, Laggan Wolftrax, a mountain bike hub in the forests loomed up and it had a cafe. Yes! We instinctively pulled in. The cafe was open and let dogs in (hurrah). It was very rudimentary but had a couple of good items on its menu. Hubby had eggy bread with bacon and maple syrup and I went for the veggie chilli nachos with coffee to follow. A family of Americans sat in the corner being served the nachos and boy, did it look good. So imagine my utter disappointment, when I went to order and found out there was no more nachos left. Really? Quickly I scanned the menu board and chose the Parmesan egg mayo sandwich only to be told that it was off the menu too – they had actually run out of veggie options. Oh for Pete’s sake. They offered me the bacon, Brie and cranberry sandwich sans the bacon, which didn’t quite float my boat, but it was food. I didn’t have much choice. It just wasn’t our day today in many ways. So we sat down at a table – I then noticed that apart from the Americans, four forest workers were also devouring a bowl of nachos each. They were an obvious favourite dish here and I had arrived just too late.
So we ate our fare, the food was really nice and The Dog scrounged titbits from under the table. Suitably nourished and with nothing better to do, we drove back to Spean Bridge and their little Spar shop for vital provisions – beans, crisps and chocolate biscuits before heading back to the site and being quiet, while the rain tapped gently and steadily on our roof. It hadn’t stopped raining all day. Wisps of low cloud wheedled their way between the hills and mountains, like scrawny fingers, the summits completely shrouded in mist. It was very atmospheric and beautiful despite the awful weather. Scotland can do this – look wonderful in all weathers.
We checked that our proposed pub let canines in (yes, they do – the day is looking up at long last) and decided to make the bed up so we could collapse in it straightaway when we got back. At 6:30, we waddled down to the pub, the rain gently falling in stair rods. The pub was open already (yippee) and we walked in, the bar at one end and down both sides, dining tables and chairs, some with a reserved sign on them. Looks like it’s going to be busy, but we were the first in. We sat down and looked at the menu – it was pricey for what it was, but we had no other option. We plumped for the curry and watched the huge telly suspended in the corner. The food arrived, heaps of rice and curry and as a bonus, a large spoonful of tinned vegetables. The Dog got a treat and settled down. The food was nice, but ambitiously priced. We got chatting to the owners and watched Emmerdale. Hubby had another pint. Nobody else came in – so much for the locals supporting their local hostelry – but the owners said they had been ram-packed on Monday and Tuesday with visitors. So fickle was the hospitality industry.
With bellies full, we said goodbye to our hosts and walked back down the lane, the tunnel of trees making it incredibly dark when we turned the torch off. We jumped into bed – it was still quite warm (we left the side door open but the rain kept coming in) – watched the other half of the Star Wars film we had started to watch last night and fallen asleep halfway through. This time we made it to the end. We snuggled down – not the sort of day we had envisaged, full of slight disappointments and lots of rain, but we had made a day of it.
The weather is ridiculous at the moment. The start of October and it’s 15 degrees!!! Almost t-shirt weather! We have been incredibly lucky – 10 days of decent temperatures, missing the rain and a good dose of sunshine. Scotland isn’t usually so kind this late in the year. So we can’t complain about one day of persistent precipitation – it could of been 10 days of constant wetness and we would of been well and truly going stir crazy. We fell asleep content with the world.