Malaig, The Isle of Skye and Gairloch

We had no real plans on this trip except, relax and enjoy! Van working perfectly, suitable supermarkets generally available, so deciding where to go is the hardest decision of the day. North was the obvious choice from the beginning but sticky out bits on the left side of the map kept looking interesting. Places like Harris and Lewis in the Outer Hebrides are only a ferry ride away, but peak season availability and British Rail style reliability raises the very real possibility of being stuck there.

Took the drive from Port William to Mallaig to have a closer look. Sadly the weather meant the close look wasn’t much further than the bonnet of the truck! Zero places to park overnight in Mallaig and ferries mostly cancelled so turned around. Finding parking spots for a 6m motorhome is always entertaining when there is barely enough room for 2 pushbikes to pass. Found this place with a shitty view and got some dinner on!

Awoke the next morning to a new day, bright sunshine and new plans. The Isle of Skye has a handy bridge avoiding the annoying ferries and any risk of post meal review sessions, so off we go again. 100 mile detours are generally annoying but not whilst we weave gently through mountains and valleys of pure beauty. Avoided the crowds at Loch Ness searching for a floating log and turned left at Inveraray. Places to stop along these routes are limitless, including this handy harbour for a gentle amble and a bite to eat.

Soon enough we were over the bridge, further North and further West than either of us had ventured in the UK. Predictably, the island was summer holiday busy, B&Bs and restaurants booked out weeks ago. Headed half way up the coast and set up our travelling restaurant for the night at Portee. Didn’t fancy the look of the boat tour on offer so settled on a pre dinner walk about town before putting the chef back to work in the kitchen.

Headed North again in the morning to a place called Staffin. Assumed it was retirement home for poorly educated recruitment and HR types! Further North around Uig and the top of Skye then a gentle sheep avoiding game back to the Bridge.

Fluid levels in our travelling hotel starting to look dicey. Drinking water levels now outweighed by the other variety. Hot shower and mains plug in high on the agenda. Campsite, Sands at Gairloch filled the brief.

Ullapool next…

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Lady Jacqueline of Glencoe!

Took the road out of Appin and continued North towards the highlands. We had always planned a visit to Jackie’s title heritage in this part of the world.

Spent an our or so enjoying Jackie’s sprawling estate. Awesome conservation effort

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Edinburgh and beyond…..

Hotel bang in the middle of the city. Bags dropped off, bearings found, so off for a wander and a sing song in one of the local pubs! Too late for dinner so crisps and beer had to suffice!

Woke up bright and early, perhaps a little dusty and croaky from all the singing but excited to be picking up the van today. Before hopping on a local bus to Haddington, bags and Bear in tow, we had an early lunch in another local establishment – Angus beef pie with chips and of course the local speciality, Haggis, Neets and tatties, served with a whiskey gravy, DELICIOUS!

Then a hop onto a local bus to Haddington, a lovely little town 30 mins south of Edinburgh to meet the van owner in Tesco car park, sure enough 3:00 pm sharp with met our van and it was love at van site!

Quick shuffle from East to West Scotland with a gentle blast past Glasgow. Booked a camp site in Largs to suss out the truck before braving the wild camping that followed. Met a local lass romping around the place in the morning.

Enough if that now, off we go into the wilds. still can’t get that bloody song out of my head….

You’ll take the high road and I’ll take the low road,
And I’ll be in Scotland afore ye.
Where me and my true love will never meet again,
On the bonnie, bonnie banks of Loch Lomond.

Loch Lomond it was then before we got told to move along by the local rangers! Broad Scottish harder to understand than a rare Swahili dialect, but the no overnight parking message came through loud and clear! Honeymoon Ridge sounds cute and was. Three handy motorhome sized spaces just off the road. Trotted up the hill for a pre dinner stroll, then broke out the BBQ and got stuck into a doorstop sized slab of salmon. All good until around dusk when we had our first midge encounter. We had been forewarned about these clouds of Scottish terrorists and hid in our van!

Early start the next day, midges still in bed so headed North. Took the long route round via Oban. Stopped off at a handy roadside stop for a bite, then again a bit further for a shoofty around an ancient castle

Loch Etive next, right on the bank.

You can park overnight in Scotland, pretty much anywhere that says don’t. Best of all, free! Food and fluids dictate the number of days. Tiny, gas powered fridge on board good for 3-4 days worth of stuff plus almost unlimited tinned/dried is awesome. Sizeable fresh water tank also good for at least 4 days. Cassette thingy under the dunny is somewhat more restrictive. Supermarkets, pubs etc all have handy toilets but the ’ahem’, liquid waste is pretty much 3 days max, even with the ban on Mr Whippy and his antisocial chums! Water also getting low so checked into a camp site called Creagans Station where we showered and did all the necessary stuff to ensure a comfortable next few days of free camping! There was also a fabulous old pub within walking distance where we enjoyed a couple of drinks and scoffed some fish and chips.

Nothing beats the freedom of being able to camp any where and wake up in different and beautiful locations everyday and then just going and stopping when you feel like it!

Heading off towards the highlands now ….

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1st Class train Kings Cross to Edinburgh – Shittish Rail style

We had been looking forward our trip to Scotland for months. 1st class Train booked well in advance, heaps cheaper than flights, plus no farting around with check in queues, baggage or getting to and from airports. 

Waved cheerio to Nic at West Ham and hopped onto the tube for an easy run to Kings Cross. Rocked up just over an hour early to find hordes of people looking gormlessly at the departures board. Saw 12pm Edinburgh Up there and wandered off for coffee. No need for snacks, didn’t want to suppress the appetite in advance of the awesome looking first class food menu on the train.

12pm departure gently makes is way across towards the left hand side of the board, then around 11.30, disappears! No announcement, just nothing on the board. Bugger. Queue at the ticket/info counter looked insane so took a stroll to the 1st class lounge for answers. A couple of hundred other passengers clearly had the same idea and weren’t getting any help from the fat controller at the desk, telling irate passengers that he didn’t know what was happening and hiding behind a face mask. Given that the stroppiest were still waiting for the 11am train, our prospects of a luxury journey North were heading South rapidly. 

Eventually, the fat controller gave us an option, head to Euston and jump on a train hoping for a seat or wait for more news. 12.15 announcement cancelling the 12 O’clock service answered that one so off we went to Euston. 10 mins walk later, Euston Station is heaving with bodies waiting for platform numbers to appear against their chosen escape route. 1.30 Glasgow service is ours, change at Carlisle. 

Every time a platform number appeared on the board it was mayhem. Something akin to the start of the London Marathon with luggage! Several hundred people racing to snag a seat. Didn’t fancy our chances from the back of the pack, so took a strategic position near the platforms.

Platform 6 flashes up next to the Glasgow Service! Holy shit! People being knocked over. Bodies, suitcases and hats flying all round us, no worries, going to apply for suitcase rolling championships if it ever catches on. Gold and Silver for us in this one! Carriage K, 1st class, don’t mind if we do. Popped the bags in the luggage area and parked our arses into a couple of unreserved seats.

Every carriage on the train was then rammed full of passengers. Including people sitting on the floor for the next 4.5 hours. Train declassified, no tickets required, sit or stand wherever you like. Getting from A to B on Sri Lanka trains was more civilised! Train too full for carriage service or the shitty little shop on board to open.

Given the discomfort of most others on board, we were quietly happy to have seats and enjoyed the journey.

Carlisle came all to soon with the added joy of several hundred people jumping onto an already packed train. Wow, thought the first leg was busy? Only an hour an a half on this one and we were swept along in the tsunami of bodies onto the streets of Edinburgh. 

Not the experience we imagined, will see how the bean counters at LNER unravel this one..

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Charing

Not Mum’s House or Charing! Leeds Castle a couple of villages away!

Last time we were here, it was for Mum and Roy’s wedding 3 years ago! Now that the worst fears of Chinese Lung Disease have subsided, visitors are welcome again and neighbours invited.

J4x & Bear coming was the perfect excuse to gather friends and family who rallied to the cause during lockdown.

It was touted as an Aussie BBQ. If a bloke with English/Italian heritage, a set of tongs and an Aussie Passport counts, that is good enough for me. Several gallons of Pimms, 4 Kilos of pork loin, a few salads and a stack of sausages later, off we go! Mum chimed in with enough trifle to feed half of Kent and some vegetarians brought lettuce and other stuff with no nutritional value.

Much fun had. Off back to Essex then Scotland

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Croydon and Bromley

1000km cross country treks in Oz are perfectly normal. A gentle hike from one side of this island to the other has sightseeing opportunities, that only the POMs could create. Navigating access routes unchanged from the dark ages whilst avoiding Farmer Giles in his house sized tractor. Truck drivers blocking the motorways because of fuel prices, (Seriously! How the fuck will that help!). Honest citizens trying to get from A to B in cars because the train Unions want more cash for their members, I thought Maggie sent these tone deaf imbeciles packing in the ‘80s. All at a time when every caravan in the UK is pottering off to its summer residence. Sir Ranulph Fiennes would be appalled!!

Regardless, our trusty hybrid steed purred through these obstacles to arrive at Alex’s new pad in Croydon. Crikey! Talk about towers in the sky, Croydon has properly grown up! Luxury residence with private dining suite and games room up top!

Speedy stop at the Benjo’s for the night. Always a pleasure to see these guys. Added bonus with Kirsty being there after a minor flight hiccup.

We both have childhood memories of lavender bags living in the sock or undies drawer. Probably more sensible at the other end of the laundry cycle but that is another matter. Never been to a lavender farm, or paid 4 quid for the privilege of doing so…

Off to Mum and Roy’s in Charing…

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A Friendship 45 years young

I met this bloke at prep school 45 years ago. Whilst the rest of us gradually got grey or lost our locks, piled on a few pounds and showed our age. One bloke still stands proud. Such a pleasure spending time in your Taunton home, meeting the Mrs and a couple of the troops.

Diary note not to rely on Louise for directions to the pub. Needed a couple of thirst quenchers and wasp swat on arrival!

Jackie had some well documented Cider encounters at school. A visit to Sheppy’s Cider brought back many happy memories for all concerned 😀 One of the dogs even managed a spew to celebrate the occasion!

Off to see Alex next

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Back to School

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No noticeable work done on this old girl since we left. Still looking moody and grumpy but she is certainly ageing gracefully. Unlike a couple of her former students who continue to behave badly. We decided to pop in and have a bit of a mooch around. The ghosts of former headmasters and staff must have been taking a break from holiday haunting duties. The familiar sounds of ’Ockenden’ or ‘Miss Trevor’ were pleasantly absent and we continued our tour unmolested.

After a quick recce in the car, we parked the car up outside my old abode, Gate House and went for a wander. Bit sad to see the demise of the grass lawn and old stone steps that would have assisted many previous generations of ladies onto their horses and into carriages. Replaced now with bland concrete, probably reflecting the current attitudes of parents who fork out £40k a year to outsource their offspring! Broken windows and general neglect have clearly benefited from. Temporary classrooms that looked more like portacabins in our day have been replaced by real buildings. Likewise, the two storey versions that housed Biology and Geography have been replaced by three storey replicas of the old buildings. Looks properly posh!

Jackie’s old abode was the somewhat strangely named ’Kings House’. Shiny new for Jackie’s generation, it still bears the scars of stones lobbed at windows by dickheads like me!

The lake was the traditional haunt of smokers, cider slurpers and young lovers. Happy to see that the paths are well trodden in 2022. The rear entry to the pub that was used almost exclusively by underage Clayesmore students for cider and cigarette purchases no longer exists although the local village shop looks to have a handy selection for spending thirsty quenching pocket money.

Run down canoe building shack and CCF buildings also now long gone, not sure about the old rifle range. A shiny new IT block now occupies a chunk of this space.

We were slightly surprised to find the doors to the main building unlocked. Rude not to have a poke about! It has been many years since either of us knocked on the door to the headmaster’s office waiting for a bollocking, beating or suspension! Happily there was no one in residence. The old tunnel into the dining room still there, kitchen security sadly much improved since our 1980’s food raids!

Probably outstayed our welcome so lobbed the drone in the air for a few pictures before making a hasty departure 😀

Happy memories

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Bath

So, here we are in the land of soap dodgers! The Romans worked this out when they ran the place a couple of thousand years ago. Setting up a permanent washing facility on the source of some hot water. Ceasar and his merry band of sword waving, soap enthusiasts took a few centuries to work out that they weren’t welcome here before heading back to Rome. What remains is a fabulous city in the West Country, sadly, full of students and tourists paying top dollar to waft around in robes and have a wash.

Had a shower in the morning so no need to don robes or partake in any communal washing experiences. Took a rather more modern view of place on board electric scooters. Not sure about our choice of protective headwear!

Stopped in a pub that said craft beer and good food. 0% ale suprisingly good. Jackie’s chicken ceasar must have been left over by the one of the blokes who ran the place 2000 years ago, just a smaller portion and drier! Off to find a supermarket before heading back to the Cotswolds.

Off to school tomorrow 🙇‍♀️🙇‍♂️

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Morris dancing

After a few awesome 35 degree days in Essex and London, we collected our steed for the next couple of weeks. Spatial reasoning takes on new levels of challenge when Jackie’s luggage collection meets Toyota Yaris! Mission accomplished and 4 hours drive to the other side of the island we arrive at Cousin Annabel’s rather posh Air BnB in Bisley. Crikey! Thought that buildings this old and beautiful were exclusive to Big ears Co!

Popped into the village for a pint and a feed. Few things can be more welcoming than a pub named after you 😀 Disturbingly, the Bear Inn was the meeting place of Guy Fawkes and his merry band of gunpowder enthusiasts. No trace of him today although the pub does have its own jail underneath. Happy to avoid any periods of incarceration and enjoyed a firework free lunch knocked up by an Italian chef. Disturbance arrived shortly in the shape of a bunch of blokes sporting bells and wearing hats that looked suspiciously like fruit salad. Morris Dancing is an ancient custom here, however, given the average age of the participants and the crowd of 3 that turned out to watch, it’s future looks bleak. Maybe Morris Dancing amongst the yoga set on Dee Why beach is option for bringing more English heritage back home to Oz? Enthusiastic stick whacking and bell jiggling ensued for a few minutes before obligatory rest and warm ale in pewter pots! Lady T joined in with a spot of summer hanky waving whilst I searched the local ale for bubbles!

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