Friday, 29 June 2012

113 Tynemouth and Whitley Bay

Friday 29th June

After a restful night in the hotel and breakfast, we managed to get Leon talking to us after his night of abandonment.  We were looking to visit Whitely Bay, see the seaside, then book into one of the coastal campsites that boasted fantastic sea views and seaside town entertainment.  We reached Tynemouth first and on parking up, the beach was lovely, the sun was shinning and no one would believe that yesterday's weather had happened, well apart from the working people who couldn't get the train or got stuck in traffic jams where the road was still littered with debris!
Where we parked up was an aquarium called "Bluereef", so we decided to visit.  After paying and being stamped with black ink on our hands for the privilege, (apparently this was so we could enter and leave and re-enter at will), we had a wander round.  We were beaten back by classes of 6 year olds' having school trips, so we walked round a bit sharpish.  It was enjoyable, small, but every effort made to make it interesting.  It also had a couple of otters, 4 seals and some monkeys.  All very cute. 
Just some of the examples of species

Check out the teeth on this!

Anyone brave enough to burst his bubble?

I'm beautiful, so why the down in the mouth look?

Err Hello, I don't do water.  Give me another grape.

Whitely Bay, was also small, but the beach was beautiful again.  Unfortunately, like everything else in this country at the moment, lots of businesses were shut down and it was very quiet.  We did the seaside thingy of fish and chips, and then went into one of the amusement arcades and became excited 10 year old's for 20 minutes. 
First time I've seen electric  points in a car park, Ray just had to recharge his batteries!

Whitely Bay

We had spent some time searching out possible campsites, and drove to two of them.  The first one couldn't take us as it was all static holiday homes, and the second one was much the same, but very expensive for one wee tent on a land rover.  Plan B.  We went inland and found one in the middle of nowhere on a farm, but after all the rain, even we would have struggled to get out. We finally found one called Derwent Holiday Park, near...........  We have been told it is only 10 minutes to Newcastle, but it took us nearly 2 hours to get here again from south Newcastle.
We did pass The Angel of the North, and weirdly enough it is in the middle of several major roads near a housing estate, I thought it was in the middle of nowhere.

Anyway we have booked in here for the next 3 days.  After rather a fraught time with the campsite little Hitler, and reading the 8 pages of don't s we have decided to be out all day and only come back when everyone else is asleep......

112 Melrose, Hermitage and a damp Newcastle

Thursday 28th June
After a weird evening of rolling mists, where we camped on the beach.  We fell asleep to the bellowing sound of the waves crashing into the beach, the deafening sound of heavy rain on the tent and the periodic rumble of the East Coast diesel electric trains. Actually, as usual, we slept very well and were woken at about 8am to some plank shouting at one of his 4 unruly dogs. Ho hum.
It was then a 30 mile ride to Melrose Abbey. On the way there, having previously found it on the map, we drove through the hamlet of Blackadder which made us laugh. Little things etc...
+ made us laugh

This is taking patriotism to a whole new level..

Anyway Melrose Abbey was a fantastic 12 - 15th century ruined building and despite the structure, we used those digital talking things that told you about the spot you were currently in.It is believed that the heart of Robert the Bruce was buried here so about 1998 a seismic survey of the site was conducted and an and an anomaly was found just outside the Abbey walls. The area was dug up and a large metal chest discovered. A hole was bored in it and an optical scope inserted. In there they found another lead covered chest. They again drilled and looked only to find a heart. Samples were taken and confirmed it as being a heart but obviously DNA was useless so they just had to assume is was King Robert. It was a very good visit despite the pouring rain. 

Despite the ruins, the dialogue made this wet visit very entertaining and worthwhile.

The bell tower at the top. How much use have those stairs had ?

The North face. It must have been awesome in it's hey day.

This believe it or not is a pig playing the bagpipes.

Wo Hoo...more Blackadder. Robert Blakader was a monk in 1472AD, not a lord. I am so disappointed. !

We then jumped back into Gromit and drove a further 30 miles South to Hermitage castle. The rain by this time was of biblical proportions and had not really stopped all day. The roads were starting to flood in low lying places. This was another ruin and it came across as very dark and foreboding, and with the thunder and lightening it was very atmospheric.
The Hermitage Castle.

Seriously spooky during the lightning and thunder.

We decided to visit Hadrians wall and came across one of the small mile castles and an exposed section of wall at a place called Bank. When we got out for a wander around and whilst on the South side of the wall Karen rather cockily said to me "Oi, get on your own side". I replied "I am on my own side, you get over", "Oh, which way is Scotland then ?".
"Errr....that way", "Oops".

Left is Scotland, Right is England. Karen eventually capitulated and said as we both had parents from both side, we could be on either side.

Leon thinking "So where does that leave me then ?"

An awesome undertaking.

Very wet Llamas wishing they were back in Peru.

As the weather was horrible we decided to find a B&B. We drove for a few miles and I had the bright idea of going to Newcastle as I have never been there. Big mistake !
The roads to the city were flooded and it took an hour to do the last few miles to it. A flash flood had lifted a tarmac farm road and deposited it on the main road to Newcastle. We arrived as council diggers were clearing it. 
This road eventually ended up........

........down here.

On arrival into the outskirts of the city we were confronted with complete gridlock. So many of the main roads were impassable that it took 2 1/2 hours to travel the 3 miles into the center of town. We passed many flooded areas and stranded motors stuck in deep water. We passed an allotment behind a housing estate that had a foot of fast flowing water going through it. 

This was 4 hours after the rain. Most of the water had subsided.

On arrival at our hotel we discovered that we had been double booked. Our online application had been confirmed at  exactly the same time as a phone booking for the same room came in. As a result of the floods, many businessmen who could not get home had booked in as well. Fortunately one discovered after he had booked in that he was then able to get home and relinquished his room. Lucky or what.
We later found out the flash flooding in Berwick had taken out part of the train line that threatened to keep us awake last night and all the trains going North were sent back to Newcastle and hence thousands of passengers stranded in Newcastle.  We managed to miss all the main parts of the storm and it was only once we were settled, we found out how much devastation had been caused.

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

111 Stirling and Edinburgh

Monday 25th June
After packing up again, we left the comfort of the caravan and decided to go and get some culture.  Our first stop was at the Wallace Memorial.  It was very expensive and had been built in the 1890's so some what of an after thought.
The William Wallace memorial

The next stop was Stirling castle.  For a nominal fee we could buy a pass that allowed us to enter any other historic sites free, as many as we liked in a three day period that had to be used in 5 days.  This is one of Scotland’s grandest castles due to its imposing position and impressive architecture, Stirling Castle commands the countryside for many miles around.
It towers over some of the most important battlefields of Scotland’s past including Stirling Bridge, the site of William Wallace’s victory over the English in 1297, and Bannockburn where Robert the Bruce defeated the same foe in the summer of 1314.
King Robert the Bruce

Whatever you do, do NOT let her out !!

Great Hall decorated to mimic what it would have looked like in its heyday

Inside the Great Hall

Whatever the question is, the answer is no..... Off with their heads.

The kings state room

The devil, he was depicted here as a female. See the boobs.

Situated on a volcanic outcrop guarding the lowest crossing point of the River Forth, Stirling Castle is a great symbol of Scottish Independence and a source of enduring national pride. The castle’s long, turbulent history is associated with great figures from Scotland’s past, such as William Wallace, Robert the Bruce and Mary Queen of Scots. It has seen many royal dramas and witnessed the lives and deaths of almost every Scottish monarch up to the Union of the Crowns.

Stirling was the favoured residence of most of Scotland’s later medieval monarchs. Most contributed to its impressive architecture. In James IV’s reign (1488–1513), Scotland was increasingly receptive to Classical ideas spreading across Europe from Renaissance Italy. James spent much time and money making the castle fit for a European monarch, chiefly to impress his queen, Margaret Tudor, daughter of Henry VII of England.

His legacy was continued by his son, James V, equally determined to impress his second bride, Queen Marie de Guise. Their daughter, Mary Queen of Scots, was crowned here in 1543, and Mary’s own son, the future James VI, was baptised here in 1566. The celebrations culminated in a fireworks display on the Esplanade, the first seen in Scotland. James VI hosted a great three-day celebration here in 1594 to mark his own son’s baptism.

From there we made our way to Linlithgow where we camped ready for our next dose of history. It was a beautiful evening and we sat outside to enjoy it and a cup of coffee, but were soon inundated with midgies and so retired to the back of Gromit to escape them.  Strangely they disappeared as quickly as they had arrived.  Chores sorted and to bed.

Tuesday 26th June
Usual packing up done and we were on our way to Linlithgow Palace.  It is mostly ruins but you can walk throughout the rooms and in the towers and there are still many sculptures that remain.  This again was another home to King James V and it is said that Mary Queen of Scots was born there but only remained there for 7 months until she was taken to Sterling Castle as it was more secure.
The fountain inside Linlithgow Palace

The remains of the rooms and towers.

Next door to the Palace is a church. St Michael's Parish church.  It is very old and quite beautiful inside.  Sadly outside the church the Prison Officers were forming a guard of honour for one of their colleagues  who had past away to cancer aged 47.
Inside St Michaels Parish Church

The prison officers Guard of Honour.

We left there and headed to Edinburgh castle.  Ray had never been there and we spent several hours going around the many halls and exhibitions, including the crown jewels.  It was a little bit special for me as well as I was christened in St Margret's Chapel, inside the castle and we were able to go inside and see it for ourselves.  We learned a bit more history and really enjoyed the day.
Approaching Edinburgh castle esplanade.

The one o'clock gun. Fired every day

The Chapel altar where .......

...the last time this lady visited was at her own Christening.

The kings state room. Note the addition of the St Georges Cross.

The memorial to all Scottish soldiers from 1914 to the present day.

When it was time to leave, we headed for a campsite at Morton Hall, on the outskirts of Edinburgh, near Fairmilehead at the bottom of the Pentland Hills.  As a teenager I used to live here, so we drove round and saw our old house. The street its self doesn't seem to have changed much in 30ish years.

Where Karen lived as a teenager.

The campsite was lovely, if a tad expensive. The heavens had opened so we sat in the bar at the site and had dinner and a wee dram before retiring for the night.

Wednesday 27th June.

It was still very damp under foot when we got up but we were soon packed up and off again.  As we were in Edinburgh, I wanted to see if my old school still existed, Firrhill High School.  We found it and   drove up to the gates.  It has been completely revamped but there it was in all it's glory.  My little claim to fame with the school is that my gym teacher went on to train and then marry Alan Wells, one of Scotland's gold medal winners at running in the Olympics.
And the establishment responsible for her brilliance.

No day is complete without a trip to Tesco, and we had planned to go for a walk up the Pentland Hills, but we couldn't see them for the mist and rain.
We left Edinburgh and took a scenic route through the borders and ended up at Berwick upon Tweed, which is in England.  We spent some time wandering around and walked on the city walls.  It had been mentioned a few times in our tours of the castles, previously.
The Ramparts. A wall built to keep out the English or the Scots depending upon who was in charge at the time !

Berwick is a quaint old market town.

The bridge over to the southern 'English' side.

Whilst down this way we thought we would visit Holy Island.  To get there you have to cross a causeway and be very aware of the tides.  We crossed over with no problems, but once in the town on the Island, you cannot enter the town by vehicle.  You cannot camp.  You pay for the privilege of parking up, so not wanting to be stuck there, we decided to head back to the mainland.  On the way back we saw huge numbers of seals and different sea birds.  Oh there was a castle there too, but we could not get to it.  If we'd planned things a bit better we could have spent some more time walking about.
Lindisfarne castle.

Anyway, we are sitting in a pub called the Lindisfarne Inn, using their Wi Fi and wondering about where to stay tonight.

Monday, 25 June 2012

110 Driving back down through Scotland

Monday 18th June
Today we abandoned Dingwall and set off for a long drive around the Cairngorm mountains and eventually on to Fort William - again !  We did, however, not make it.
We came across the bridge use in the Harry Potter films, oddly enough at Colluden, where the English beat the crap out of the Scots many moons ago.

For those that saw it. The flying car scene in Harry Potter 2
We nearly ran over this little fellow, he allowed me to get a good photo as the poor sod is blind (as well as daft).
A cute little mole

 We stopped at. a beauty spot and took this piccy of a very health looking cat with his mum.

3 hours later we thought he was on his way out !

Whilst driving a long a narrow stretch of the road we saw a Red Legged Partridge with about a dozen chicks crossing the road. 

How cute is this lot.

We drove past Balmoral castle but were there too late to visit. I have since found out that
Balmoral was once owned by the Farquarson clan, of whom the Bowmans (my mothers maiden name) are associated with and where they get their tartan from.
We then popped into a bar in for a beer and when we came out the cat had been seriously sick. So much so that we decided to take him to a vet immediately, thinking that his time had come so to speak. We eventually found a veterinary surgery and called out the emergency vet from Kerrimuir. A few jabs later and a very long night of careful nursing by Karen and Leon was suddenly back on the mend. 

Tuesday 19th June
With Leon making a miraculous recovery, we decided to press on for Fort William.
We came across a dam at the end of Loch Apparently water is piped about 15 miles downhill to a hydro-electric power station in Fort William.
A Scottish estate gate house.
We camped in a campsite at the foot of Ben Nevis. 

Wednesday 20th June
In a daft rush of blood to the head. I decided that as the sun was out I would climb Ben Nevis it had been on my to-do list since being a young man. So just before 12 noon off. An hour later I was beginning to regret my good idea. I was knackered and wondering if was going to make it.

God I was knackered.....
Ben Nevis is rare in UK mountains in that the walk up it starts at almost sea level and goes up to the highest point in the UK at 1344rn. Its a bloody long hard walk. I was even worse (for me that is) when I was passed by a bloody Italian going up barefoot.

Bloody Italians ;-)

To make matters worse, as I am writing this we have just been beaten by the Italians at football on penalties
I eventually made it to the top in about 3 1/2 hours.

A Mars bar or two and I was on top of the world !

The view from the top was
incredible and the camera cannot begin to show the view properly.

Looking down over Fort William
1 then ran down the first half of the mountain and got down in 1 1 / 2 hours. This sound pretty good but I was in pain for the next 3 days. Karen says it is just typical of me. Black and white with no grey. (all or nothing and live to suffer it.) 

Thursday 21st June
A rainy day. We drove a round trip to Fort Augustus, about 30 miles North of Fort William On the way we came across the Royal Marines Commando Memorial. We spent a while there paying our respects
and also visited a local Commando exhibition in a nearby Hotel, it was as usual, very humbling

The Commando Memorial

The field of rememberance

We stopped in Fort Augustus for a spot of lunch and then made our way back to Fort William 

Friday 22nd June
Intending to visit the British Super Bike racing at Knock Hill in the “Kingdom of Fife” this weekend,
we found a campsite near to Knock hill at a place called Dollar. After about a 120 mile trip, we rented a small caravan for 3 days to give us respite from the impending deluge and flooding that had been forecast for all the UK.
Again, the scenery was awesome.

Glencoe Pass

The top of the pass

Saturday 23rd June
drove the 10 miles to the circuit and stood around in the rain and wind watching bikes battling the same only at speeds of about 150mph. Today however was only for qualifying times to sort out the grid positions for Sundays race day. When we came back the water was raging. This is at the back of the caravan we hired.

A heron fishing by the weir.

Sunday 24th June
A better day weather wise. No rain but the ground was sodden. The track dried out fairly quickly for the racers and we had a good day all round. There were many crashes (fall offs really) hut fortunately
no one was seriously hurt as is the norm.

Michael Laverty, Shane Byrne and Tommy Hill - They finished in the reverse order.

The sidecars are always entertaining. The passengers just have blind faith. Most of the time they have their heads buried under the fairing.