Took things easy in Tuesday morning, feeling the ill effects of Phil’s cold. Awful internet all afternoon meant that work was relatively quiet too. The day’s major highlight was the arrival of my Indian Tourist Visa. PHEW.
Better on both counts on Wednesday. In the evening, pre holiday pizza by Phil and more of The Morning Show.
First strawberry crop too.
Up early Thursday to get to Abergavenny for the 8.30am train. Gorgeous day, with the Black Mountains looking at their most tempting, but I was destined to spend the next 7 hours on the train: Abergavenny-Crewe; Crewe-Edinburgh; Edinburgh-Leuchars. I joined the southern contingent of the St Andrews Ladies at Edinburgh and we splashed out in a taxi to get us from the station to our fab Fife Cottages house in St Andrews.
Lovely sunny afternoon, and the earlier arrivals were already settled out on the terrace with glasses of Prosecco enjoying a long overdue (twice deferred) catch up. A lovely afternoon eased into an equally lovely evening. Perhaps a few too many glasses of fizz and munchings of crisps, but hey…
We woke to another sunny day. Leisurely breakfast, then out for a stroll over to the Old Course, on to the Castle and the Cathedral, out to the end of the pier and then back to The Quad, St Mary’s, various student flat locations and the three streets of town. Back at base for a late lunch out on the terrace, with tea and Fisher & Donaldson cakes a bit later when Prof M FRSE came round. A late afternoon walk along the West Sands to The End and Back then Fish & Chips from the Tailend for dinner.
More sunshine on Saturday. Another slow start, watching Friday night’s Platinum Party from Buckingham Palace – complete with Paddington – and deciding what to do. We plumped for the Fife Coastal Path south from the East Sands, Prof M joining us as far as the caravan park. Fabulous weather, St Andrews looking at its absolute best. I can’t quite believe I spent 4 years there. I loved it, but it doesn’t seem real. And it really doesn’t seem like thirty years since most of us graduated.
Another late lunch, a spin out to David Russell Apartments (aka David Russell Hall) and Fife Park to pick up a bike provided the opportunity for H and I to walk back via the Sports Hall and the North Haugh (with a stop for photos outside the Institute of Mathematics), Kinburn Park and the Bus Station.
Then a lazy late afternoon enjoying the sun trap back garden with a drink or two before dinner out at Forgans followed by ice cream from Janettas – open to 10pm!
Sunday. Sunny. The first set of farewells then down to the West Sands to watch the Chariots of Fire 5k Run. Helen, Hazel and I headed back to the North Haugh via Uni Hall and then into town for a potter, postcards and pizza for dinner. Another lazy afternoon in the sunny garden then to the Picture House for Top Gun: Maverick. Home for pizza and salad, and to tidy up the wine. Perfect end to a lovely long weekend.
Monday, the weather had turned to cloud. Sorted out the house, strolled down to the Old Course, narrowly avoided being brained by a golf ball and then took our taxi to Leuchars for – in my case – the three trains home: Leuchars-Edinburgh; Edinburgh-Crewe; Crewe-Hereford.
The long journey home was improved by the news of a no confidence vote in Mr Johnson (even though he survived it), and in particular our MP‘s open letter and the catalogue of issues that reflect my own loathing of this Prime Minister, his personality, his populist policies and his privilege.
Phil’s friends from Munich arrived late evening. Supper in the conservatory then bed.
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.
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.
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.
The lovely early evening light saw us complete the drive around the Trotternish peninsula, with several stops for photos of the Western Isles. Beautiful.
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.
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.
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.
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…..
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.
Hot off the Caledonian sleeper service (depart Inverness 20:44, arrive London Euston 07:47), I can report that Phil and I have had a fab fortnight in Scotland.
We took the Friday evening train to Edinburgh / Leith, spending Saturday with Sue (mostly at Ocean Terminal avoiding the downpour watching The Great Gatsby, but we did tour HMS Edinburgh en route) and with Eurovision providing the evening entertainment. We breakfasted all 3 days at The Haven – the excellent new cafe/coffee shop just 5 mins away from where we were staying at the Premier Inn on the Western Harbour waterfront (aka Newhaven). On Sunday we saw Emma and her family (but not the view from the Pentlands – cloud foiled that plan) but did get to enjoy the sun in Princes Street Gardens on the Monday before we caught the commuter train up to Dunblane to stay with Mary and Colin (and to enjoy a pint of two of small brewery ales in The Tappit Hen pub by the cathedral).
On Tuesday we continued north courtesy of Scotrail to Inverness, where we picked up our hire car from the excellent Enterprise rent-a-car (complimentary collection and drop off at the railway was the attraction when we booked – and their entire service proved to be faultless). With a stop off at Dingwall Tescos for 10 days of supplies, we drove West and finally made it to Diabaig around 5.30pm – after an 18 year break in my case… we’re not planning to leave it so long for a return visit!
Our first few days were grey and damp, but that meant we could make full use of the wood burning stove and settle into our routine of lie in, read, lunch, read / snooze, afternoon tea, read, beer + nibbles, read, dinner, read/DVD. Hard work, especially when interspersed with gazing out of the lounge window at the view of Loch Diabaig, Applecross, and the Isles of (South) Rona and Skye….or at the bluebells carpeting the gardens of Corrie Craggie. I also made the most of the binoculars – and became a bit obsessed with spotting the seal in the bay, and birds galore – blue tits, great tits, chaffinches, greenfinches, redpoll, oyster catchers, guillemots, eider ducks, cranes, seagulls, cuckoos (heard but not seen), blackbirds, ravens… I’m sure there were more I didn’t recognise (even with the bird spotter’s guide).
We managed to stretch our legs along the shoreline on the Friday as the sun made its first significant appearance, and along the coast path to Craig and back on Sunday coinciding with another foray from the sun. Tuesday we took the car out for a spin along the Applecross coast road, after a short stop in Torridon to check out the excellent Torridon Stores & Cafe. We lunched at the Lochcarron Bistro (vg) before taking the more direct road back to base. On Wednesday and Thursday the weather was fantastic – so we spent all day sat outside in the camp chairs, having put in some practice on Sunday afternoon and Monday….
During our stay we also walked up (and it’s a LOT of up!) to the top loch on a few occasions to pick up a mobile phone signal and data (weather forecasts, plus the all important Monday crossword clues and solutions!).
Handily, our last day in Diabaig started off shrouded in low cloud which meant we weren’t diverted from packing up, pottering and finishing off our carrot, egg, cheese, tomato and oatcake allocation – with crumpet for afters. Applecross and the Isles materialised just before we took our leave at 3pm … and drove back to Inverness with heavy hearts. A fine burger, fries and beer at The Filling Station before settling in onboard the sleeper and trundling back down south overnight. Euston came as a bit of a shock…