The Concubine’s Secret – Kate Furnivall

The Concubine's Secret - Kate Furnivall
The Concubine’s Secret – Kate Furnivall

Taking a breather from Mary Beard’s SPQR, I turned to one of my Frinton charity shop purchases for a less demanding read.

Lydia Ivanova and Alexei Serov, half siblings and White Russian refugees, leave Communist China on a quest to find their Danish father, who’s being held in one of Stalin’s notorious Siberian labour camps. “Fiery-headed” Lydia also leaves behind her lover Chang An Lo and her mother’s grave.

Lots of adventures later (rather too many twists and turns – and pages – later if I’m honest), and families and lovers are reunited…. but how long will their happiness last?

Author’s webpage: The Concubine’s Secret – Kate Furnivall

Acqua Alta – Donna Leon

Acqua Alta - Donna LeonAn early outing by Commissario Brunett, Sergeant (still) Vianello and Signorina Elettra who has obviously only just started her career as Patta’s PA.

Their investigation features international antiquities theft/forgery, the 1994 Xian Terracotta Army exhibition in Venice, the long reach of the Sicilian Mafia, and Venice’s infamous Acqua Alta.

Publisher’s webpage: Acqua Alta – Donna Leon

Landmarks – Robert Macfarlane

Landmarks - Robert MacfarlaneSuperb writing on language, landscape and living on the land.

Lots of new words to use (well, to try and remember); lots of new books to read…

Looking forward to fuddling next time at Forty Acres, and to the accuracy of describing my Dolpo Expedition river crossing photos as “Crunching across the frozen mud and skim-ice to wade through the waters of the upper Barbung Khola”.

“Other places” isn’t really the right category/genre for this but it’s the closest I’ve got (other than “Too tricky to categorise” – so I’m going to tick that too….)

Publisher page: Landmarks – Robert Macfarlane

A long weekend on Skye: The Caledonian Sleeper, Shorefield House, (Some) Sun and Strolls

Phil and I are back from a lovely few days on Skye. We caught the Caledonian Sleeper train up to Fort William, leaving London on Wednesday night and arriving Thursday morning, returning to London overnight Sunday/Monday.  We hired a car from Practical Rental – Fort William to get us to and around Skye.

Here’s what we did.

Wednesday 17 May 2017: London Euston – Caledonian Sleeper

A pre boarding glass of wine at Gino D’Acampo, then off to Platform 1 to walk the length of the train to find coach Y. Next time we’ll know that the old hands have their pre departure tipple in the dining coach… and that it’s a very, very long train.

As the train trundled north we settled in to our berths. A good night’s sleep.

Thursday 18 May 2017: Caledonian Sleeper – Fort William – Loch Lochy – Kintail – Dornie – Plockton – Broadford – Edinbane

Two cups of coffee and a pack of shortbread accompanied our wake up call at 8am as the 6 carriage train made its way through the Highlands. Green glens and hills gliding by, the gorse in bright yellow bloom, rivers and lochs and morning mists.

Caledonian Sleeper: looking back
Caledonian Sleeper: looking back

Our arrival into Fort William coincided with The Jacobite getting up steam, and the lovely gent from Slipway Autos was there ready and waiting with a sign and and our Practical Car Rentals Citroen C1. Super speedy admin – the first time I’ve used the DVLA / GOV.UK online service create a ‘check code’ to share my driving record with a car hire company and it worked like a dream. The only bit of paperwork was the Vehicle Rental Agreement! Done and dusted in less than 5 mins.

I tell a lie, there was one more bit of paper – a handy map of the Fort William & Lochaber area which made our drive to Skye super-easy: North up the A82 to Invergarry then west along the A87 all the way to the Kyle of Lochalsh and across the bridge to Skye.

En route, a leg stretch and photo op at Loch Lochy, a late elevenses / early lunch at the Jac-o-Bite Inn in Kintail (in a downpour), and another photo stop at the stone slipway at Aird Point (Dornie) with its views across Loch Duich to Eilean Donan Castle. A detour north towards Stromeferry and around the peninsula brought us to Plockton for a stroll around the village and harbour.

Then across the sea to Skye.

Broadford was our first stop on Skye. Easy (and free!) parking (hark the Londoner) looking out over Broadford Bay. Another stroll, via the scattering of small shops to the old stone pier then back through town and out the other side and onto the stone beach. Crystal clear waters, fiery seaweed, bluebells and trees in bud. Beautiful.

Phil at Broadford harbour, Skye
Phil at Broadford harbour, Skye

Continuing north along the A87 we skirted sea lochs and scurried under looming mountains, veering north west at Portree and turning onto the A850 at Carbost/Borve, the scenery shifting at every turn.

Our destination – the small village of Edinbane and Shorefield House, our B&B for the next 3 nights. Both bed(room) and breakfast definitely merit their 4 stars.

After a warm welcome from Hilary and Peter, we settled in and took up the offer of a refreshing pot of tea and the decidedly superior selection of biscuits before heading out on foot to explore the village and for a pre dinner stroll along the banks of the Abhainn Choishleadar.

The “Where to have dinner?” decision was easy – the excellent Edinbane Inn is a couple of minutes walk away from Shorefield House. As it turned out, lots of other people had the same idea, but our hour’s wait turned into 20 minutes and that gave us time for a pint and some crisps, both Skye-made, before tucking, slightly tipsily, into a tasty, tasty meal.

Then back to base. Still light at 11pm.

Friday 19 May 2017: Edinbane – Coral Beach – Neist Point Lighthouse – Portree – Scorrybreac – Trotternish Peninsula – Portree – Edinbane

The sunniest day of our sojourn on Skye.

A feast of a breakfast* at Shorefield House then off, driving west along the A850 to Dunvegan, past the castle and turning north along a single track road running along the shores of Loch Dunvegan to Claigan. First stop – Coral Beach, which came complete with seals leaping in the bay and a cold wind. Back in the car, back to Dunvegan and onto the B884 heading west across the the Duirish Peninsula to Neist Point and its famous lighthouse. A steep path / steps down – better views from the cliffs close to the parking area, and you can see the sea birds nesting on the cliffs too.

After retracing our road to the A863 we continued south east to Struan where we turned left onto the B885 to take the short cut across the island to Portree.

A potter around Portree and then the Scorrybreac Circuit. A pleasure in the warm afternoon sun; the wind had died down completely.

Green hill, blue waters. Scorrybreac Circuit scenery
Green hill, blue waters. Scorrybreac Circuit scenery

The lovely early evening light saw us complete the drive around the Trotternish peninsula, with several stops for photos of the Western Isles. Beautiful.

Evening light over the Western Isles, from the Trotternish peninsula
Evening light over the Western Isles, from the Trotternish peninsula

Our plan to have dinner somewhere in Uig was foiled by all the possible pubs’ car parks being too full, so it was plan B – back to Portree and the Lower Deck Seafood Restaurant down by the harbourside.

Back to base and the wifi to work out a plan for tomorrow, which looked likely to be damp….

* juice, muesli with plain yoghurt and fresh raspberries, oatcakes and cheese, granola and blueberries, veggie fry up – two veggie sausages, scrambled egg, fried mushrooms, fresh fried tomatoes, clootie dumpling – toast and tea. And that was just me.

Saturday 20 May 2017: Edinbane – Carbost / Talisker Distillery – Broadford – Elgol – Edinbane

I was a bit more restrained in my breakfast order this morning – mushrooms on toast (after muesli with yoghurt, prunes and water melon) to allow room for at least one triangle of toast and jam/honey (which I just about managed) and a nice big cafetiere of coffee between us. That set us up for a somewhat damp day, driving around the west of the island.

Taking the A850 west and the south east again, we detoured off onto some of the map’s “white” roads, via Harlosh and Vatten, around Loch Bracadale. Really lovely, even in the grey.

We were heading to the Talisker Distillery, on the shores of Loch Harport. Busy on a drizzly day, so we had an hour to while away before we could join the first tour of the afternoon. Easily done strolling along the waterfront and pottering around the small display in the Visitor Centre. A bit heavy handed with the history and The Brand – you could tell there was a big business behind it.

The tour was interesting, and there was a tasting at the end. As driver, I was given my wee dram in a small takeaway pot. Very Good.

The weather hadn’t improved, and didn’t, which made for an afternoon’s drive – east to Broadford for coffee and cake at Café Sia, then west along the B8083 to Elgol, almost at the end of the Strathaird peninsula. Very picturesque, and an opportunity for a photo of some free ranging Highland cows.

Highland cow, Strathaird peninsula
Highland cow, Strathaird peninsula

Then all the way back to Edinbane for dinner at the Edinbane Inn. Not nearly so busy as on Thursday – but we had booked a table in the restaurant Just To Be Sure.

Sunday 21 May 2017: Edinbane – Armadale – Invermoriston – Fort William – Caledonian Sleeper

Farewell to Skye and another damp day. So I started with a full veggie breakfast (including potato scone) to make up for it. As well as muesli and fresh fruit. And toast. Coffee again.

East and then south to Portree and south again along the A87. Through Broadford and onto the A851 – to Armadale and the CalMac ferry terminal. The next sailing to Mallaig and the mainland was docked, but we resisted temptation (and the risk of a dint or a scrape on the hire car) and returned to the mainland via Broadford and the bridge.

Looking across the Sound of Sleat from Armadale
Looking across the Sound of Sleat from Armadale

East along the A87 all the way to Invermoriston, where we stopped at the superb Glen Rowan Cafe for the best coffee and cake of the trip. Highly recommended.

Then the A82 south west, along the shores of Loch Ness – not a Nessie in sight – and onwards through the Great Glen, arriving back in Fort William with a couple of hours to spare before catching the 9pm Caledonian Sleeper back to London.

That gave us time to tour around the ring road and one way system before parking back at the station, to stock up on dinner treats from Morrisons, to walk the length of the High Street and down to the shores of Loch Linnhe and back to the High Street again for a pint and some crisps at The Grog & Gruel.

A painless car key drop at the ticket office, then down to coach Y and into our cabin for a picnic dinner watching the Scottish scenery roll by…..

Caledonian Sleeper at Fort William
Caledonian Sleeper at Fort William

We were back in London Euston by 9.15am Monday morning, in time to join the commuters on the Circle line heading east to the City.