Homeward Bound

Sitting at Heathrow. We arrived early. Exceptionally early. But after listening to traffic reports over our last few weeks in the UK, of major delays on all the motorways, we didn’t want to take any risks. Murphy’s Law meant that by being early there were of course no problems! Check in was straight to the counter (the big school group arrived minutes later). Security was nearly walk through. So now we have time on our hands. Time to post the final blog for this trip. Time to reflect and go though the photos that will trigger memories of the past seven weeks. Each stage was unique and offered us different perspectives to consider and marvel at. Historical and natural wonders have been encountered daily and apart from a flat tyre the travel has been varied and hassle free. 
So to finish here are a few photos from today. Yes we went back into the centre of Oxford. We walked around Christ Church; the Cloisters, the Great Hall (Harry Potter connection again) and the Cathedral. Our last serendipitous moment was landing in the cathedral for a free guided tour. We were introduced to the stained glass window representing medieval figures which had a flushing toilet in the background (the craftsman must have been intrigued by them as they had only just been introduced when the windows were created). The difference in window shapes was explained and we found a plaque to John and Charles Wesley. Finally a snooze on the lawns in front of Christ Church College prepared us for the short trip down the road and the long trip home.

Thanks for sharing the journey, your comments and interest in what has been a great frazzletrip!

  
 
  
  
  
  

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Oxfordshire

Into the countryside to visit some Cotswolds villages. We started with Burford, a busy touristy one which served to provide a cashpoint and a few photo opportunities before we quickly moved on. Next Bourton-on-the-Water, smaller, very pretty with the small creek and bridges but still plenty of tourists. Anne wanted to walk to Lower Slaughter. After speaking to the tourist information lady and purchasing a map we managed to get lost without even finding our way out of town. Best mistake ever! We gave up on the walking idea and drove to Lower Slaughter. A peaceful smaller village where not many tourists had ventured to. We also found the pretty walk alongside the river and across the fields to Upper Slaughter which had hardly anyone in it! The British sheep had us giggling.They sound like they are complaining about everything in life! So different to Australian sheep. An hour later we were back in Lower Slaughter and eating our Ploughman’s lunch out by the river at the Mill Cafe in sunshine. Magic for our last full day.We then headed back to Oxford only to be frustrated. Everything was shutting as we arrived at it. Christ Church Cathedral and Hall says it closes at 5pm. But last visitors are at 4.15. Just missed it. A punt on the river then ? No, he was closing as well. But he directed us to another one, “just 15 minutes down the river”. After taking another wrong turn and walking past all the river spots the punts were on, we gave up on that idea. Perhaps a sit in the botanic gardens ? No, it closed by 5pm and they charge you to go in! Tea in a cafe ? “Sorry, I’m just closing!” We were beginning to wonder if it was us. However, we were able to enjoy the outside all the wonderful buildings that we kept accidentally finding as we walked around. We may even go back tomorrow morning to find out if they actually open!

PS – Today was Malcolm’s pilgrimage day. In the morning we visited J.R.R. Tolkien’s grave and in the evening the pub where he, C.S Lewis and others of ‘The Inklings’ would meet up for mutual inspiration. In the end, a most inspiring day indeed.

   
  

  

  

  

 

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Solving the Enigma

Today was devoted to driving (our longest day for the whole holiday, if you don’t count the traffic jam to Marseilles) and a trip to Bletchley Park. Bletchley has long been on Anne’s radar and after watching ‘The Imitation Game’ Malcolm’s as well. We wandered the grounds, walked through huts 3, 6, 8 & 11, explored the mansion and viewed Enigma machines and a reconstructed Turing-Welchman Bombe. We came across the theme of tolerance again (previously encountered in Amsterdam) as ‘what mattered was what a person could do’. Two and a half hours flew by and it was only closing time and a need to get to our accommodation that stopped our visit.  
For our last two nights we have landed at a working farm / horse stables. It proved a little difficult getting through the security gates but we have our second four poster bed for the trip, an uneven floor to remind us of how old the house is, a large drawing room with an out of tune grand piano and horses for neighbours. Tea was a walk to the local pub by the river where we watched ducks paddling single file down stream and people punting past upstream.   

    
 
  
   

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A Durham Sunday

*Lazy start to the morning. Malcolm put on the fitness gear, found the ‘leisure centre’ and then couldn’t be bothered. Anne stayed in bed.

*Methodist church service. We think they weren’t really sure if they were Methodist or Anglican, as it was just like the Anglican prayer book. We chose to go there as the cathedral had a two hour ordination of Deacons service as the alternative.

*Sunday Roast for lunch. The Yorkshire pudding nearly engulfed the plate and our very enthusiastic waitress announced every meal with “Here we are ladies and gentlemen”.

*Explored the Cathedral at leisure. Ancient and modern stained glass windows. Tombs of St. Cuthbert, St Bede and possibly St Oswald’s head. Choir practice provided an angelic accompanying sound. (Unfortunately no filming allowed so we can’t share this singing.) Met up with our enthusiastic guide from the Heritage centre yesterday now working as a Cathedral guide. Saw the cloisters where more Harry Potter filming took place. (But its main claim to fame was that it was a monastery Anne !)

*Walking the river for views back across to the Cathedral. Climbed the hardest steps all holiday up to the bridge, not made for people with short legs or still recovering from the Sunday Roast.

*Found the racecourse, which was actually a cricket ground alongside another section of the river.

*Warm enough to enjoy our tea outside on the balcony at a lovely little cafe (the heater was on though!) on our way to Oxford tomorrow. 

   
    
 

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Goodbye Scotland

These days, instead of guides, your entry ticket to major attractions comes with an audio guide and a variety of headphones through which to listen to it. It certainly makes for quiet visits to attractions as people move silently around pressing buttons and listening intently to the audio guide. This morning we voted the audio commentary for our castle visit ‘The Most Entertaining of All’. Doune Castle is worth visiting not just because it is a well presented medieval castle but its audio guide leaves you laughing. Doune Castle is not one of the major castles, competing with Stirling Castle just down the road for visitors. We chose to visit it rather than Stirling Castle because it is where Monty Python filmed many scenes for ‘The Holy Grail’ (and others might like it because it is connected to Game of Thrones). The audio commentary was narrated by Terry Jones and had Monty Python excerpts spattered through it. (eg. Spamalot and the Trojan rabbit) A light hearted way to say goodbye to Scotland.
It was time to make a serious move south, with our flight home now only days away. So after lunch we crossed the border into England and made our way to Durham. Twelve years ago we paid a fleeting visit to Durham and wanted to return to do it justice. 

Saturday night in Durham…you wouldn’t believe how many Hens Parties one small city centre can cater for. The uniform for being in a Hens Party appears to be…a sash to say you’re at a Hens Party, a short tight dress/skirt with no sleeves for the warm summer night (12 degrees), extremely high heels for walking the cobbled streets, a solarium tan that looks overdone and a variety of hair colours/styles… (plus Tesco champagne to pop the corks off and consume in the street). We presume the streets will be quieter in the morning.

   
   
  

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Lochs and Lakes

Glencoe has eight ‘Munros’ (mountains over 3000 feet), needless to say we didn’t climb any! The viewing platform at the visitor centre gave us some idea of their collective might. As we drove up Glencoe Pass later in the day we could ‘feel’ their presence, as the peaks were shrouded in mist and the views were seen through steady rain. We were glad we’d packed the umbrellas as we enjoyed three short walks before lunch. A waterfall (at the end of a small loch and a road we took by mistake) a still quiet lake (at the back of Glen Coe village) and Signal Rock (from where it is thought the signal was give for the Glencoe massacre).The afternoon found us further south, headed for Loch Katrine. We missed the steam ship scenic trip by inches but found the ‘Lady of the Lake’ two hour journey to the end of the loch and back very informative. For a little loch it has a lot of history. Rob Roy lived at the end and drove his cattle to market along the side of the Loch. Sir Walter Scott was inspired to write Lady of the Lake while visiting the Loch. Filming for ‘The 39 steps’ occurred there and Jules Verne wrote one of his novels ‘Underground City’ based on it. The best story was around the Royal Cottage. It was built for Queen Victoria to stay in when she officially opened the Loch as the water supply for Glasgow. However the 21 gun salute was so impressive it blew all the windows out! Queen Victoria had to go back up the loch and stay somewhere else, she never used the cottage!  

Overnight was in our luxury B&B at Callander, in ‘The Green Room’ with plush furnishings and manicured lawns that head down to the river. The B&B’s have been great. But we are wondering if we can face up to eggs yet again. One of our fellow travellers yesterday had us laughing “I’m dreaming of eggs, they chase me in my dreams, they say ‘don’t cut off my head’…”

 

   
  
   

  
   

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Speed Bonnie Boat…

The day started without speed, a slow trip to Portree in a long line of cars behind THE slowest driver on Skye. The only bonus was that once we reached the single lane section the cars coming from the opposite direction all had to pull over for our long line! At least we weren’t in a hurry. (Top speed of 30mph, but most often 15mph). With a summers day that is helping us acclimatise for home (14 degrees and persistent rain) we spent a short time at Portree admiring the harbour before heading south past mountains that still continue to amaze us. Our destination was Armadale and the ferry off Skye to Mallaig on the mainland. The ferry was serviceable (not bonnie) and fortunately it didn’t speed as there was a decent swell which set off most of the car alarms for the whole journey. Our alarm didn’t go off, as Malcolm was aware of it due to the ‘wife locked in the car alarm incident’ at Kirkwall. So he did not lock the car. (He can explain.)

Mallaig was another glorious little Scottish port, with yachts in the harbour and coloured buildings forming a semicircle around the edge. Our find of the day (after coming across a stag) was being at Glenfinnan viaduct at the same time as the steam train went across it. Even though we had a distant view it was still magical (it is the Harry Potter train and bridge) with the sound and view of steam. 

To top off the day we had managed to book another enchanting B&B, a house with Jacobite history and glorious views over the loch (a little less rain and we might see the tops of some mountains – eg. Ben Nevis). But even in the rain this place is magical. There are so many variations of green, rugged mountains shrouded in cloud and fast moving rivers running into wide lochs.

   
   
   
  
  

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Big Skye views

First lesson on Skye, don’t let a little bit of rain stop you.
Our first hike this morning was in misty rain up to visit the Old Man of Storr. The views appeared and disappeared with the changing skies but the fascination of the rocks we were climbing towards was plenty of compensation. Formed from landslides they sit perched high above the flatter land. On the way down we chose a different path only to come across a sign at the end advising walkers going the other way not to go where we had gone! Must have been channelling our inner mountain goat again.

After finding the best pie maker (an Australian) in a quirky little craft shop/cafe two minutes down the road from our B&B we had lunch at home and then headed north to chase dinosaur footprints and another walk. We failed to find the footprints despite Malcolm clambering down rocks to explore the water’s edge. The walk was found after driving the top of the Trotternish Peninsula and then a single lane road up to the extremely busy parking lot of the Quiraing. After practising u-turns in the motorhome Malcolm managed the tricky turns with ease and we finally had a park. Definitely worth it! Two hours later we had walked a return journey along a narrow ridge path with wide ‘Skye’ views in front and tall dramatic rocks behind.

Today’s walks were all within 15 minutes of our B&B. With our own beautiful view of water, mountains and big skies, cooked breakfasts and roomy self-catering accommodation we have voted this our favourite stop after Provence. Love Skye, might check out the real estate! 

  
    

  

  

   

   

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Over the bridge to Skye

Little waterfall in the forest followed by stunning waterfall at Corriesshalloch Gorge. Best views of both the Gorge and Falls of Measach were from the suspension bridge that only allowed 6 people at once on it. Fortunately we were leaving just as the visitors started pouring in.

Tourist heaven, Eilean Donan Castle, was as picturesque as the brochures suggested. Sitting at the junction of three lochs it was in a strategic location until blown up in 1719. Then in 1912 twenty years of an early Grand designs project began as the castle was restored. A magical place even with the crowds.

Onwards to Skye. The misty rain occasionally lifted to give that ‘sunny sparkle’ to the views of mountains and water. Our B&B north of Portree is on farmland with big wide views of the sea from our front window and the Trotternish Ridge at the back. The joy of long evenings is sightseeing at 9pm to catch the ‘sunshine shots’ breaking out from behind dark clouds. A majestic rainbow at the end of the day typified the tease between a day of showers and sunny breaks. We look forward to what other stunning sights might be revealed in the new day, if the clouds lift a little to reveal more of this most majestic of places. 

 Spot the suspension bridge …  
    

  Our front yard  
Just down the road…


9.30pm

  
  

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Scottish Summer

Sunshine, clouds, rain, sunshine, biting wind, sunshine, rain going sideways, clouds, sunshine….
The trick today was to arrive at the picture perfect spots with the right weather conditions to match the subject of the photo. We managed to photograph a few ‘award winning beaches’ in the sunshine and brooding landscapes with backdrops of incoming rain. The picture perfect Ardvreck Castle ruin was captured in both sunshine and cloud. 
The Western side of Northern Scotland has been more of what we imagined the highland scenery to be like (influenced by the TV series, Hamish Macbeth). Views of mountains, rocks going into the sea, small lochs with little fishing boats and large lochs lined with trees and mountains as backdrops. The roads left us continually saying ‘glad we’re not driving a motorhome’ as we pulled into passing bays along single width roads. 
Our little adventure of the day was a short tour of Smoo Cave. Hard hats were required as the boat went under two low sections in the cave. The cave waterfall dried up ten days ago. They are having a drought apparently (despite what we would class as good rain) and for the first time in 20+ years the waterfall is dry. After having viewed caves aplenty in Australia these were small and tame, but the boat ride was worth it. Also, the guide was called Fraser and had visited Hamilton in Victoria. 
Sitting in our B&B’s lounge now, with expansive views down Loch Broom, after being the first ones in tonight. Early start to catch the ferry this morning so nice to have some down time.
    
  
   

  

  

 View from the B&B 

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