The Heather on the Hill – Blog 1
Nine days on the trail now so time for a bulletin from the quaint town of Pitlochry, somewhere in the land of our Scottish forebears and yes, there is a distillery nearby so it’s not a bad place to prop for a day or two.
Our travels to date have taken us over the top of the world to the UK via Tokyo. At Heathrow we picked up a brand new Peugeot and hit the road for Oxford. Living history, of course, and I might have studied there if I hadn’t come from peasant stock. Then on to Stratford for an overnight stay and also well worth the visit. Robyn did her first shopping there, helping out with the UK's economic recovery as a dutiful colonial should. We were pleased to find that many of the locals speak a form of English (to our surprise, the Scots do as well) so our communications have stayed open and we have not attracted too much adverse attention as part of the new wave of immigrants.
Just love the secondary roads in the UK. Exactly two car widths across and no verges where one can pull over. If the car breaks down, the driving lane is where you stay because there’ll be a bloody great rock wall or hedgerow or, in the Yorkshire Dales, the front door of a farmhouse right next to your window. There’s so little space that the drains are under the roads, with gratings inset into the lane edges every thirty metres or so to get rid of the rainwater. It’s a bit like train travel, with the offside wheels bumping rhythmically over the gratings to keep you awake. Having said that, everyone cooperates by parking anywhere, driving on the wrong side of the road, stopping to wait for oncoming traffic to pass. So it’s all very spontaneous and friendly.
The idea was to head north to Scotland, so from Stratford we drove to York where there happened to be a Yorkshire food festival. We tried the local bangers and they were great. Then a splendid drive westwards across the Dales to Cumbria, the spectacular Lakes District and although the words drip easily from me, it’s pretty hard to do justice to the unique combination of the lakes and the surrounding fells; high barren places just begging to be climbed and all around the beauty of the lakeshore forests and the villages. For a world rating tourist trap, it’s very unspoiled. We stayed for two days on the banks of Lake Windemere and I looked everywhere but didn’t find the Lady of the Lake so I settled for a long walk and a Chinese meal instead.
On to Glasgow, keeping off the motorways and seeing Scotland’s southwest, then into the city for a meal and a few hours wandering around the city centre. We found the oldest house in Glasgow, somehow reminding me of a girlfriend I once had and indeed the whole place was a pleasant surprise. Nothing like the crime and violence and uninviting streets we’d seen so often on the Taggart TV series so we took a chance and stayed overnight before heading ever northwards to the bonnie banks of Loch Lomond and then over the sea, or at least the bridge, to Skye. Once again, our expectations were high but the scenery of the Highlands is mind-blowing all the way, photos are good but only a shallow reflection of the experience. We overnighted at the delightful Skye harbour town of Portree before driving right around the island the next day to take it all in. Must be a bugger of a place in the winter but the legendary Nolan weather luck has been holding all the way. Didn’t even get to wear the cold weather gear we brought. Our first day of rain today, but only a short drive down from Inverness and we are warmly settled in here at Pitlochry for the next day or two before heading for Edinburgh for two days and then to Dublin.
The food has been great apart from a burger we tried in London that defied analysis, even forensic investigation, so I haven’t made that mistake again. The beer is better than I remembered, and each place we visit has its own special brews so I haven’t yet had two glasses of the same tonic. The people have been friendly, even the Yorkshire native who replied ‘Oop thar lar ‘n uvver heel’ to my simple request for the whereabouts of the Post Office and when I said thanks he offered ‘Y’lockie speel’ as a parting shot so I guess that meant that he liked me and I managed to find the Post Office in spite of his help. I was also expecting the occasional linguistic hurdle on Skye but they talk pretty much like us and I guess that’s because they don’t spend a lot of time in the cities with the underclass elements.
Not much news of Oz here on BBC or in the papers except a mention of the upcoming Ashes series. All is well at home with Mingma, who is still working so that we can afford to eat when we return. We’ll probably slow down a bit after we spend a week in Ireland and work our way down to the south of France to hang out with son No 1 for a week or two. I’ll send more progress reports from along the way. In the meantime, best wishes to all. For my golfing friends, I’ve not picked up a club because I know that if I did someone would recognise me and I’d be escorted from the course immediately. Even on holiday, there are some experiences just too tough to even think about. And I’ll be passing St Andrews tomorrow. Pity.
Peter and Robyn