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Driving around Scotland's Western Highlands

Listed under Road Trips in Scotland, United Kingdom.

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  • Photo of Driving around Scotland's Western Highlands
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A wonderful 250 mile trip from Edinburgh to the Isle of Skye with Scottish wildlife abounding. For history and architecture lovers, visit Linlithglow Palace, Stirling Castle, the (William) Wallace Monument, Fort William’s West Highland Museum and the wonderful Eilean Donan Castle on Skye. Fresh seafood is a near necessity, especially scallops, mussels and oysters. For nature lovers there are seals and otters, highland cows, hare, foxes, deer and any number of birds. Lochs galore, and the coves and beaches on the Atlantic at Morar in particular are outstanding, fishing in Arisaig and Mallaig, with the final destination, the Isle of Skye, with sea cliffs and rocky outcrops. In addition there is an amazing range of great places to stay from small family run B&Bs to luxury hotels and foodie havens making the best of the natural larder

Written by  George Monkhouse.

Comments, reviews and questions by other travellers

omg cannot tell you how much I enjoyed reading this uou kept me in hysterics laughting. Not sure if you will get my reply April 2013 We are going to Edinburgh this June and will leave our Ken (more like Kim) @ home lol hope you have had many more lovely trips since this one glad I foimd it and stopped to read your rants, as you aay over there brilliant bloody brilliant. vickincanada

Wow, I enjoyed it. You are a fantastic writer!

Sisir

Glesca

Slurping Round Scotland

DAY 1 - Sunday 26 July 2009 – Birmingham to Penrith

Left house clean and tidy, hopefully it’ll still be that way by the time we get home with Small Son staying there, and hopefully he might also have discovered how to use the white oblong thing in the corner of the kitchen by then too and hasn’t starved to death.

Broke news to dog about saying in kennels for a few days. He didn’t seem bothered, but maybe he was hiding his desp… as soon as he saw the kennel maids he made like a terrapin with ADHD on the floor and was led away without even a backward glance. A faithful friend indeed, tsk, will do anything for a chocolate drop that dog.

Just before we set off on our mammoth journey, I turned to Hubs in the driver’s seat and whispered, “Just remember one thing on this trip, my darling.” I paused for effect. “Pander to my every need because, my love, if I’m happy, you’re happy.”

“Gerrawaywiya,” Hubs laughed, which I think is a new term of endearment we haven’t used before. How lovely.

Bombed it up the motorway to Penrith, the rain lashing down the entire time so that the road in front just looked like a fog with the odd red light in it.

We let Ken lead the way. Turn left at the end of the road, so we turned left, and he said, you have reached your destination, only we hadn’t, it was somebody’s house, and the somebody was peering out of their living room window going, “Who is it? Who’s here?”

Located hotel further down the road, looked okay, then bombed it down to Ullswater. Driving passed the lake we saw a boat trip and parked. I did my Quick Change from ‘City Slicker’ (okay, homeworking slob in jacket and sandals) into Fells Woman in the blink of a set of trainers and a really outdoorsy type coat – sometimes, just sometimes, I actually get it right (well, I think I get it right, I probably still look like some fashion statement gone horribly wrong). I ruined the whole effect by Lighting a Cigarette, and actually heard the whole of the Lake District suck in a collective gasp of horror. Yeah, whatever.

Fair leapt onto the tour boat across Ullswater shouting “Ahoy there at the stern.” Ignoring the rain-soaked seats, we sat down at the front, ready to ride the waves. The boat puttered away from the pier-thingy and… turned around, so we were actually sitting at the back.

This was no good, I wanted to be at the front, pointing the way and forcing Hubs to do the Titanic bit again (he wouldn’t). Forced my way through the middle of the boat bit where they were serving refreshments to astonishingly bored looking pensioners in a room set to tropical temperatures, and battled through a plethora of small children to the pointy bit. But, before we could get to the pointy bit, a large Rhodesian Ridgeback dog blocked the way. I looked at it, looked at the owner, who didn’t look at me, then stepped over the enormous beast with all my innards clinging terrified to my spine.

The howling winds and choppy waves at the front of the boat certainly blew away the Birmingham cobwebs. Ice-cold spray washed my face and a gale forced my mascara to collect around my ears.

Ah, this was the life.

We took the half-trip and not the full three hour trip, primarily because Hubs had only put two hours on the car park (tsk), which means we were abandoned half way down Ullswater to be picked up by another boat on its way back. We thought there would be stuff at the midway point, like shops, a tea room, maybe a pub or something, but no, there was nothing. Nothing. As the boat boated away, leaving us there all alone, we wandered off to explore as we waited 20 minutes to be collected again (bit like Robinson Crusoe for wimps). Found a nice little beach area where we could watch ducks and have a cigarette (another collective gasp from the walkers in them thar hills… oh shurrup).

Just as we were chilling out, a boat arrived. “Are you going that way?” I asked one of the boat people, pointing back to where we’d come. He nodded, I jumped on, and back we went.

We then wandered into the small village in search of ‘Kendal Mint Cake’. “It’s sweet,” Hubs had said. “I can take sweet,” I told him, “I’ve eaten meringues.”

Kindal Mint Cake isn’t actually a cake. I was a bit taken aback and not a little disappointed to discover it was a ‘bar’, and not a cake. Thin and white, it tasted like a cross between the sugar mice you bought when you were little and chewing gum. “Not sure I like this,” I said, scraping at the 100% sugar content… and promptly proceeded to devour the lot (purely for scientific purposes). I was on a sugar high for aaaaaaaaaaages afterwards, good stuff.

Went back to hotel, checked in, was given The Key, and hauled our belongings round to a courtyard area with a covered walkway all round. Considering we were supposed to be Travelling Light, we seemed to have an awful lot of heavy luggage with us (including ‘emergency’ whisky and lemonade, laptop, binoculars, and bum-bag filled to bursting with all my worldly belongings).

Room wasn’t thrilling, but it wasn’t ‘I’m-Leaving-in-a-strop’ either. It’s a room. Twin beds. “They’re trying to split us up,” I cried, and Hubs pushed them together… anything for a quiet life.

Went back round to reception to enquire about dinner,when a bus load of pensioners pulled up. “They’re gonna be trouble,” I said, and they were (no, not really, well not much). They jostled off the coach and jostled into reception, each one wanting to be first so they’d get the best room. They quick dissipated (to see which one had got the best room), then returned en masse at 5.59pm exactly for dinner, loitering around the rather nice restaurant until the doors opened (I think the staff were terrified). 60 pensioners jostled through the door for the best seat like starving schoolchildren, I was killing myself laughing.

“Rush in and take a photo of them,” I urged Hubs.

“No!” he said.

“Go on, rush in, shout ‘oi’, then take their picture.”

But he wouldn’t. Adamantly refused, the spoilt sport.

Ate an enormous three course meal with complimentary bottle of wine for a tenner each, then merrily ordered a second bottle (and we don’t even drink wine). Staggered back to our room hoping there’d be enough oxygen in it to last us until morning… I’m kidding. The pensioners were a bit noisy in the night, dashing in and out of each other’s rooms, either still checking to see who had got the best one or else a spot of naughty stuff was going on.

We were both comatosed by 9pm. Road trips shure are exhausting.

Clifton Hill Hotel. Its not posh, but for £35 you don’t expect much of an overnight room. It’s basic but clean. Very friendly staff, really laid back and helpful. Nice place to stay.

DAY 2 – Monday 27 July – Penrith to Largs (nr Glasgow)

Today, Scotland, yay.

Up at the crack of dawn and on the road by 7.30am, all excited. So excited we made like tourists at the border and posed at signposts, but fortunately it was too early for anyone to really notice.

As we drove into Scotland we both started gasping things like, “Oh there’s a little old Scottish lady,” “Oh there’s a Scottish boy on a Scottish bike [made in Dudley, West Midlands no doubt].” The rain also stopped.

Got to Gretna Green before it opened and were duly underwhelmed. What should have been a historic place of great interest had been turned into a tourist trap, the blacksmith’s shop swallowed up by shops. We came, we looked, we buggered off again.

I saw my first ever Red Squirrel, standing startled and rigid at the side of the road. Hubs saw a pine martin (no, not a bird, a long furry thing, apparently).

Ken the sat-nav directed us to Largs, our next stop, but wanted to go the direct way, up the M74 through Glasgow, whereas I wanted the scenic, more wobbly route. There were a couple of terse conversations between Ken and I, before Hubs broke it up by going the scenic way (because I was more likely to throw a strop than Ken). Scenery was breathtaking, simply magnificent. There was no doubting we were in Scotland.

Arrived at Largs and Ken, in a pique of revenge, took us down back streets and deposited us at the rear of some large building. “You have reached your destination,” he spat. We hadn’t. We’ve yet to arrive at our actual destination with Ken, and we’ve had him quite a while now.

We drove along the sea/inlet front, searching for our hotel, muttering, “Hope its not that one, hope its not that one, wish it was that one, oh it is that one.”

The Brisbane Hotel is a fabulous looking place, newly refurbished, all shiny glass front. As it was only lunchtime, we booked in but didn’t haul our luggage in with us. “The room isn’t ready for you yet,” said the receptionist. “That’s alright,” I told her, “We just came to say We’re Here. And can we have a room with a view, please, because we deserve it.” Well, not the last bit, not out loud, I let my pleading face convey the message, but we were promised a room with a view.

Went for a walk along the front. So pretty. A bustling little tourist town with views of the Island of Bute and Little Cumbrae, just so terribly Scottish.

And back to our hotel to haul in the luggage. The receptionist, seeing us struggle, offered a ‘boy’ to help, but Hubs, proud and man-like, hiked them all up the stairs crying, “That’s okay, I can manage,” in a really strained voice. Our room was up two flights of stairs and I prayed he didn’t give himself an injury.

It was small, but we were on reduced rates from laterooms.com, because you certainly wouldn’t get a normally room in a hotel like this for £65 (if there’s a bargain to be had out there on t’internet, I’m having it). There were bits of the hotel unfinished, but it was still impressive. The staff were new so a little unsure but very enthusiastic. The manager was Drop-Dead-Gorgeous.

Rested, washed and changed, and out to enjoy the view from the front of the hotel with a wee dram from the bar, watching the world go by. This was so the life. As we sat and yakked, a lady walked by, and promptly fell over. Hubs rushed over yelling, “Its okay, I’m a first-aider!” (not quite the same ring as “I’m a paramedic” or “I’m a doctor”, but hey ho). Several staff also ran over to the poor woman splayed on the concrete floor, and she was helped into a chair.

“Would you like a shot of whisky for the shock?” asked the Gorgeous Manager.

I tell ya, that woman was up and out of that chair like a shot, shuffling into the hotel foyer and into the bar for her free whisky. I liked her style, though promised Hubs I wouldn’t be launching myself down any steps in order to obtain free booze.

We were told it was ‘probably best’ to book a table in the restaurant, but we didn’t and managed to nab a good one by the Window With a View. The ‘special’ curry was nice, if a little small. Afterwards, strolled to Nardini’s right next door for an ice-cream and spent an inordinate amount of time trying to choose a flavour from the dozens on offer, pressing our childish faces up against the glass and asking “What’s that one?” of the uber-bored assistant. Then back to the front of the hotel to chill.

A little later, back in our hotel room, Hubs felt peckish and nipped out for some chips, smuggling them back into the hotel like a drug runner. Jolly nice chips.

Bed early, as always. Slept like logs.

DAY 3 – Tuesday 28 July – Largs to Loch Ness

For breakfast I decided to be decadent and have Eggs Benedict. It duly arrived, luscious and lovely, with ham, not bacon. Do you remember when you were a kid and you scraped your knee, and when the scab fell off you’d lick the pink skin underneath? Ri-ight, just me then. Anyway, the ham tasted like that, like licking a sore knee… with eggs and Hollandaise Sauce. Hmmm, yummy. Hubs had the full breakfast on a plate almost the size of the table and wasn’t hungry for days afterwards, whereas I got peckish before we’d left the hotel car park.

Today, Largs to Loch Ness. “We won’t be going through Glasgow will we?” I asked sweetly, because Glasgow isn’t the prettiest of places and I wanted to feast my eyes only on the best that Scotland had to offer (because I’m worth it, sweep of hair).

“No,” said Hubs, following Ken’s directions, “I’ve selected an alternative route, we won’t be touching Glasgow at all.”

“Aren’t we heading to Glasgow?” I asked after a while, noticing the road signs counting down the miles to Glasgow.

“No, not going anywhere near Glasgow,” Hubs insisted.

“Aren’t we in Glasgow?” I said, pointing at a sign that read ‘Welcome to Glasgow’.

“Stupid Ken,” said Hubs, and Ken huffed (really, it huffed. The machines are taking over, you mark my words.)

I whinged and whined my way all through the Clyde Tunnel.

We found our running joke today. ‘Hidden Dip’ roadsigns. “Get the Dorritos out!” Hubs cries, whilst I holler, “And keep yer eyes peeled.” Well, we found it funny, but then we’re sad gits.

Spotted our first ever distillery, a brand we’d never heard of and couldn’t even pronounce – Auchentoshan (och-en-toshin). Sounded foreign, distilled in a building straight from the Bavarian mountains.

A lovely girl gave us a guided tour, telling us how the place was bombed in the war and all the whisky flowed into the rivers (“Did all the locals dive into the rivers after it?” I asked. They did not.) We were told to ‘sniff’ things, like smelly stuff in drums and barrels and jars, and I tried to be discreet and just pass on the smelly stuff, but Hubs boomed, “Debbie can’t smell,” and everyone went ‘oooh’ whilst thinking ‘whatever’.

We were given a taste of Auchentoshan at the end. It was 10.30am, but apparently it was okay because it’s a ‘breakfast whisky’, so I slugged it back and my poor stomach, already having dealt with sore-knee ham, groaned and squelched and handed in its notice.

All very interesting. Later, we passed a Whisky Shop and, hyperventilating with joy, knocked back a few samples whilst pulling knowledgeable faces and making approving noises… all before midday (obviously we bought bottles too, we didn’t just go round the shop knocking back samples, I stopped Hubs before that happened, and together we hiccoughed our way back to the car… oh not really, tsk).

Shortly afterwards, we drove passed a Bells distillery and pulled in. It was a big place but seemed deserted. A man came out of a doorway and I called across to him, “Do you have a shop here that sells Grants whisky?” The man looked at me whilst Hubs laughed his socks off behind the wheel. “Grants?” the man repeated. “Its Bells,” Hubs guffawed. They didn’t have a shop anyway, selling Grants or otherwise. Very disappointing.

What wasn't disappointing, however, was the glorious, beautiful scenery:

Driving down a hill by Loch Lomond we saw two women frantically cycling up to the top, the first one looking right berluddy miserable, the second one more enthusiastic and shouting, “The view at the top will be wonderful, it will all be worth it, you’ll see.” The woman at the front was obviously thinking terrible thoughts and wondering how she managed to be talked into doing something so crap. We saw lots of couples on bikes like that.

The Highlands of Scotland is like therapy for the soul – come in, it says, lie down, make yourself comfortable, would you like a wee dram o’whisky whilst Miss McDonald massages your temples. Its all so glorious, so hilly and dramatic.

But my mantra is, just because a mountain exists doesn’t mean you have to climb it, just because there’s a waterfall at the top of a hill doesn’t mean you have to scramble up it to have a look… all you need is a pair of binoculars to enjoy it all from the comfort of your own car seat, marvelling at the sight of tourists scrambling over craggy rocks to get out of the rain.

It did rain in fits and starts, showery rain as opposed to the perpetual monsoon type rain we’ve had in Birmingham. I told Hubs it definitely wouldn’t rain today, bet him 50p it would stay dry. When the rain started he held out his hand, but I brushed it away saying, “This isn’t rain, its low lying cloud, altogether different.”

At Fort Augustus we branched away from the main traffic down the east side of Loch Ness, where our next hotel was. We drove for miles, stopping at one point to peer through the binoculars at the distant horizon, searching for a hotel-type building, or any building at all. It was eerily quiet and deserted.

“We’re going to get killed by the locals and decapitated in the surrounding forests,” I whined, scenes from every horror film I’ve ever watched running in High Definition through my head.

We finally encountered houses. “Hope its not that one,” I said, “Looks like a bed and breakfast. I don’t like bed and breakfast. I didn’t book a bed and breakfast.”

“Stop. Whining,” Hubs said.

“Okay.”

We drove passed a rugged track that had our hotel name above it, simply refusing to believe that’s where we were staying, up some rugged track in the middle of Nowheresville. Eventually we had to turn around and go back, up the rugged track, to a house. Not a ‘hotel’, a ‘house’. A bed and breakfast, the name of which has been withheld for reasons which will become obvious.

It had a salmon pink exterior.

Uh huh.

As we pulled up, the man standing outside looked at us, turned, and walked away without a wave or a word of welcome. Friendly types running the place then.

Uh huh.

We followed the signs – and there were a lot of signs – to the reception. The ‘reception’ was a wooden shelf in a tiny hallway.

This wasn’t looking good at all. Hubs and I glanced at each other in a meaningful way. The décor was old-fashioned and dark. There was no atmosphere. It was like the House That Time Forgot. We were definitely going to be killed by the locals and dragged into the woods.

A woman appeared, nice enough but a bit shy. Surely if you run a bed and breakfast (definitely not a hotel) you need to be quite gregarious and people-friendly? She wasn’t.

“I’ll just run you through some rules,” were almost her first words.

“Yes, we spotted the smoking area way out front when we arrived,” we laughed.

“No children,” she added, “And I ask that you don’t have your own food and drink on the patio tables.”

“Uh huh.”

“Payment up front.”

Before we’d seen our room? O-kay.

We paid cash. The ‘hotel’ had already taken a pound out of my bank account, I’m not sure what for, but that must be a nice little earner if she did that with every guest that stayed in her seven rooms.

We were then shown down a rabbit warren of dark and cluttered corridors to our room, behind a partition, next to the toilets that all the other residents would be using (I’d paid extra for the only en-suite). It was nice, small, recently decorated, quite pretty, but small. The ‘en-suite’ was a cupboard with a shower and toilet that had me sniggering for ages. But the view was good, of Loch Ness at the bottom of the hill.

The woman shuffled off. Hardly a warm and friendly welcome. We almost felt as though we were imposing.

“There’s something not quite right about this,” I whispered to Hubs. He nodded.

It was a strange atmosphere, almost oppressive, dark, dismal. It felt like someone had bought the place 20 years ago, done it all up, then promptly lost interest in it. There were a myriad of pictures on the walls and hangy-dangly things everywhere, just cluttered. Eccentric is the best word to describe it.

There were signs everywhere too: please turn off the lights, please don’t eat your own food on the patio tables, please don’t drink your own drinks on the patio tables (one sign on each and every table, even on the smoking table out front). Oddly, there weren’t signs telling you about the dangerous steps up to the patio area (which Hubs and I both fell down, twice), or the CCTV camera in the hallway.

It was seriously strange, but amusing in a darkly comic way.

We immediately went out for a meal at the nearest pub, the Whitebridge Inn (which cosy and friendly, and it did B&B... bugger!). Hubs roared down the rugged track and fair shot down the narrow lanes in his haste to (a) get a drink, (b) get some food, and (c) get away. “Careful how you drive, Mr Hamilton,” I warned, “my sons won’t travel this far north to identify my body.”

At the pub Hubs, approached by one of the locals at the bar about where we were staying, launched into a laughing diatribe of our accommodation. A couple at the next table listened earnestly as Hubs guffawed about the room and the signs and the strange woman who owned it. We went outside for a cigarette, and the same local came out, looked at Hubs, looked at me, and cried, “Is this your wife? She’s very pretty. You’re a very lucky man!” At which I preened and nodded and laughed up my spleen. I’ve never let Hubs forget it (“I hope you realise,” I’ll say at odd moments, “that you’re a very lucky man.”)

Later, the couple from the pub pulled up outside the bed and breakfast. They didn’t speak. None of the other guests (and the place was apparently full) spoke either, in fact we didn’t see anyone else at all, which was kind of weird considering there were a total of 16 people in the house. Even the ‘hostess’, when we partook of a pint at her ‘bar’ (for ‘bar’ read ‘cupboard’ with some pumps) said, “The place is full, but you’d never believe it would you.” We all peered around the pristine, deserted dining room, and thought they were all probably holed up in their rooms wondering what the hell they were doing there.

We went to take our pints up on the patio area to partake of the view of Loch Ness, but it was pouring down, and we didn’t want to risk the already dangerous steps in the rain after a pint.

Going to bed was quite interesting. The sheets were so well tucked in we had to slither our way beneath the covers. When I woke up in the night, cold, and tried to pull them up, they wouldn’t move, absolutely refused to budge. I think they were nailed to the bed frame.

Let’s talk about the night. The toilets behind the partition outside our bedroom door were ‘communal’, which meant we knew exactly what time each of the other 12 residents went to the bog. Some slammed the toilet seat down, which seemed unnecessary because there was a separate male and female toilet (or ‘stag’ and ‘hind’… uh huh).

And then, sometime in the wee small hours, someone, somewhere, slammed a door. Raised voices were heard, quite angry voices. More door slamming followed at intervals and had me waking up with a rush of adrenalin each time. I almost got up and wedged a chair against the door I felt that unsafe with whoever was shouting in the house, wondering if they’d burst into our room at some point in their yelling rage.

Crap night’s sleep.

DAY 4 – Wednesday 29 July – Loch Ness to Fraserburgh

We were up and out and away by 7am (having failed to locate anyone to hand over our keys), bleary-eyed and laughing in an exhausted way at the experience of it all. Had breakfast at a Tesco café.

Today was Whinge Day. There’s always one on every trip, and today was it. We were tired from a disturbed night’s sleep and bickered our way around the East Coast of Scotland in pretty spectacular fashion. “Is this the coast road?” I asked Hubs. “Yes!” he snapped. “Well where’s the berluddy coast then?”

At Lossiemouth where the air base is I said, “Oh shall we park up here and watch the jets fly in?” and Hubs snarled (yep, snarled), “There won’t be anywhere to park.” “How do you know?” I sniped backed, “Have you been here before? Have you? No! So how do you know there won’t be somewhere to park, huh?”

We parked. We listened to the incredible noise of a jet taking off a few miles down the road, marvelling how anything could make that much noise. Hubs sulked, I whittered. We’re quite good at bickering, Hubs and I, but we never fall out – we come close, but neither of us oversteps the mark that much because deep down (and its really deep in bicker-mode) we quite like each other.

Against Ken’s wishes (ha ha ha!) I persuaded Hubs to drive down little roads to look at the sea, while Ken insisted persistently that we return to the main road. In the end I gave up and we shot off towards Fraserburgh like a heat-seeking missile. Ken, of course, took us to some random house and announced, “You have reached your destination.” Useless piece of plastic.

The hotel isn’t spectacular looking, a flat roof building on the edge of the sea, just outside St.Combes. It has building works going on which will look quite good when they’re finished, but its not really a place you’d look at and go ‘Wow!’ It was nice inside though. Hubs had booked this hotel and raved from the moment we pulled up about how fantastic it was. It wasn’t, it was just a hotel, and quite an expensive one at that.

The staff were friendly and attentive. The room was… well, a hotel room with a view of the North Sea. We rushed out to walk along the rugged sea front. There was no path so we clambered down a steep grassy incline. It was a rocky beach. I wanted to sit on a rock and contemplate the meaning of life and stuff, but Hubs wandered off to explore and I was forced to follow him or be abandoned and left alone in what was literally the middle of nowhere.

Hubs placed the camera in the middle of a path and leapt down the bank beside me, almost breaking his neck, in order to take a photograph of us together.

Climbing up the steep hill to get back to the hotel, Hubs leapt up like a mountain goat and stood at the top waiting for me. The grass was long and slippy, and I kept falling back down like a right girl. Eventually, making sure nobody was around to witness my indignity, I tried to crawl up on all fours and still couldn’t make it. Up above, Hubs took a helpful step forward and urged me on. I was up and down that grassy bank like a yoyo. Eventually, Hubs removed his belt and threw one end down to me. I gripped on (for dear life) and he pulled me up, the hunky He-man. I’ll never get the grass stains out of the knees of those jeans.

Our room had a bath. I filled it and jumped in, and promptly fell asleep. When I woke up a short while later, I could hear Hubs snoring in the next room.

We dressed up for dinner, it seemed appropriate. We sat in the lounge area while the super-enthusiastic manager brought our drinks, which was nice. We ordered (quite expensive) meals and sat next to the windows looking out to sea. Feeling decadent, we also ordered a bottle of house wine… and were charged £18 for it (£18 for house wine! I’m still smarting). Good food though… the locals seemed to think so too as the restaurant soon filled up.

They played Streisand whilst we ate. Now, I quite like Babs, but this album was obviously called Babs Whines, followed by Babs Whines Again (domestic version: You Think You Feel Depressed Now, Wait Until You Hear This). Honestly, after an hour you wanted to choke yourself on your food to stop the pain.

Manager was super-keen, like Basil Fawlty. We would in fact meet Manuel the following morning.

Until then… sleeeeeeeep.

DAY 5 – Thursday 30 July- Fraserburgh to Queensferry (nr Edinburgh)

I was wide awake at 5.30am, no idea why, the brain just seemed to boot up on its own without my consent. Seeing rabbits on the grass outside the window, I threw on jumper and jeans, snatched up the binoculars and went for a walk.

I was barely two steps outside the hotel reception when a young chap called out to me from the reception doorway. “Are you checking out?” he asked.

“No,” I laughed, indicating a definite lack of luggage.

“Will you be wanting breakfast?” he asked.

“Later.”

I started to walk away to rabbit watch, but he shouted, “What room number are you?” “Nine,” I shouted back, “Or 10, I’m not sure, its too early to think.” He watched me suspiciously.

A short time later Hubs came to look for me. “Just been accosted by the night manager,” he said as we waded through loads of terrified bunnies, “Wanted to know if I was checking out.”

When we got back to the hotel we found the reception door was now locked. There was no-one at the desk inside. We hung around awhile, marvelling that we’d been locked out like naughty children (or maybe the night manager didn’t want any more residents escaping). He eventually wandered idly through reception, I banged on the window and mouthed, “Oi, can we come in!”

Tsk.

After a hearty breakfast, we headed off towards Edinburgh, passing through Dundee and Aberdeen along the way.

Today was also the day we started hating Ken, our sat-nav guy. We’d programme him to take us to our destination, but we might decide to deviate to the coast or a pretty little village along the way. That’s when Ken starts getting a bit… testy.

“He has a bit of an attitude,” I said to Hubs on more than one occasion, “Listen to the tone in his voice, kind of irritable and patronising.”

“It’s just a computer,” Hubs sighed, rolling his eyes, “It doesn’t have an attitude.”

“You’re just taking his side,” I snapped.

“Turn round when possible,” Ken kept saying.

“Carry on ahead, Hubs, show him who’s boss.”

“Turn round when possible and go back the other way.”

“Hubs?”

“I’m concentrating.”

“On what, on Ken? You should be listening to me, I’m your wife, he’s just a sat-nav!”

Honestly, there were moments when I wanted to grab Ken by the throat/sucker and lob him out the window. Pretty sure Hubs felt the same about me too.

We stopped at Portsay, a cute little fishing village.

I was tired, sooo tired – bunny watching since 5.30, I just wanted to lie down on a rock and slip peacefully into a coma. Hubs, bored of my limp exhaustion, left me splayed out on the damp grass like I’d just been shot, and wandered off. He came back with dressed crab, which tasted just like crab paste.

On we drove. I kept thinking, road trips are the epitome of armchair travelling, you literally just sit there and watch the world pass by the windows, how cool is that, how pleasant and comforting and zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

Hubs woke me up by slamming on his brakes and forcing my face against the windscreen like splattered pink chewing gum. Not really, he poked me, which is less dramatic but more painful. “We’re going to cross the Tay Bridge!” he cried excitedly.

I sat up, looked, saw nothing but the road ahead. “Tay Bridge?” I said, “Tay there!” (only Black Country folk will get this).

We covered quite a few miles today, through lots of villages and towns, passed signs reading, ‘Thank you for driving carefully.’ “No choice,” I’d mutter under my breath, “Ken had us on a pretty tight lead.”

There was another road sign I kept seeing throughout Scotland. I’m tempted to not tell you this, but Hubs threatened to hack into my website and spill the beans if I didn’t, so here goes (deep breath).

So there were these roads signs, right. B&W pictures of a camera. Now I’d seen these in America, it meant there was a scenic view to photograph, but I noticed that here there was often nowhere to park to take a photograph of a scenic view, which I thought was quite dangerous. Stranger still, sometimes there was a sign where there wasn’t even a scenic view.

I mentioned it today, as we drove towards Edinburgh. “Tsk,” I said, rolling my eyes, “So where’s the scenic view then, eh?”

“What scenic view?” Hubs asked.

“Precisely my point.”

“Where’s it say there’s a scenic view?” Hubs persisted, because he likes to keep up with the state of my insanity on a regular basis.

“Those road signs of a camera.”

“You mean, those road signs?” Hubs said, pointing as we drove passed one.

“Yeah, that’s it, so where’s the scenic view then?”

“They’re speed cameras,” Hubs said.

Honestly, you could have heard a pin drop as I digested this piece of information. I swear I could hear Ken sniggering. I definitely heard Hubs laughing like a drain.

Around lunchtime I said, “Shall we stop for lunch… for the first time this week?”

“Are you hungry?” Hubs said, “Already?”

“Well its only been five and a half hours since we last ate, I’m a bit peckish.”

“Burgers?” Hubs suggested, “Chips?”

“Oh you know how to spoil a girl don’t you,” I tutted. “No, I want a village bakery that makes their own bread, with a filling sourced from fresh local ingredients.”

I got Burger King.

We finally arrived at our destination… or not, since Ken clearly has a destination problem in his microchip. We eventually found where we were staying for the night, and immediately thought two things simultaneously: ‘Wow, that’s pretty!’ and ‘Wow, is that a train line running above the roof?’

It was.

Hawes Inn in Queensferry was heaving with people all having meals, the atmosphere was warm and friendly and inviting, just our kind of place. We went to the bar and stood in queue, mentioning to someone that we were staying there for the night. 3.5 seconds later the manager appeared next to us, ready to book us in… lovely chap, young, terribly good looking, Liverpool accent, charm itself.

“Can we have a room with a view?” I flirted crappily.

He gave us a key and we hauled our luggage upstairs, down a hallway to the room at the end, put our key in the door, and went in.

First thoughts were ‘Oh my God, its berluddy huge, there’s been some mistake!’ It was like a stately home with three turreted windows, two overlooking the river and bridges, one overlooking the lovely garden out back.

“Look how much rooooom we’ve got!” I cried, skipping from one side to the other like an enormous fairy on drugs.

It was beautiful.

“I’m not going home,” I said, putting my laptop on the antique desk and throwing myself onto the enormous bed, “Just leave me here, send money.”

And oh my God, the shower had a detachable head so you could actually remove it from the wall to wash your wobbly bits without doing dangerous contortions, a million brownie points!

After dozing and showering we went downstairs to partake of some grub, which was reasonably priced, arrived quickly and was delicious. They also had the most stunning waitress I’ve ever seen in my life.

We took a romantic walk along the riverbank into the quaint village, then indulged in some serious whisky slurping outside the Inn. The view was glorious, the weather magnificent, and we watched the sun set over the road bridge as we got a bit drunk.

We thought we might be disturbed by the trains literally running above our room, but the bed was so comfortable, the room so soothing, the whisky so abundant, that we didn’t. I think they might stop running after 9pm. It was actually the best night’s sleep I had all week.

DAY 6 – Friday 31 July – Queensferry to Edinburgh and Darlington

I’ve never been to Edinburgh, never seen the castle. Today was the day, and I was dead excited!

“Where is it?” Hubs asked, sitting in our lovely room programming Ken before we set off.

“Edinburgh? You can’t miss it, big place about 12 miles down the road.”

“Ken can’t find the castle,” Hubs said.

“Of course he can’t.”

“Is it Castle Avenue?”

“Yes, something like that, there’s a big road that runs up to it, must be Castle Avenue.”

We set off. We drove into Edinburgh. Ken took us down residential streets and then said, “You have reached your destination.”

I could not stop laughing. We eventually found the castle ourselves, driving passed it to the nearest car park Ken could find, about 10 miles down the road. That sat-nav must die!

We walked out of the car park and asked for directions. A mere 10 minutes walk, apparently.

NOT!

10 minutes walk if you’re an Olympic sprinter on speed maybe, but for us mere mortals it was a good half an hour of stiff marching before we came to Royal Mile (not Castle Avenue), then up the hill to the castle.

It was a bit touristy, but my God, the atmosphere was electric, lively, thriving!

I was knackered by the time we reached the main event, clinging onto Hubs and sweating my socks off in the scorching heat. Time for a fag.

“Where can we smoke?” I asked, because now that smoking’s been outlawed we’re quite sensitive about public hostility and abuse.

Hubs asked a woman in a uniform. She said we could smoke anywhere, just not inside. Hubs, clearly a bit overwhelmed by this kind of accepting attitude, then did the following: he turned towards me, raised an arm, then swung the arm in a kind of Let’s Go! motion whilst bawling, “Come on!” I tell ya, my eyes were so wide in astonishment I’m surprised they didn’t pop out and roll down the hill.

Inside was great, thoroughly enjoyed it, very historic and educational. Middle Son rang whilst we marvelled over the Scottish crown thingy. “I’m in Edinburgh, at the castle,” I said smugly. Not to be outdone, he replied, “Oh, I’m going to Egypt tomorrow.” Thwine.

Outside, a whisky shop. Al-right! Well stocked up on whisky miniatures now and look forward to a lost night of tasting to find my Brand of Choice (but will probably stick to the cheap crap made from the droppings of rabid mice, suits my budget).

We started The Long Walk Back, which seemed to have increased in mileage in our absence. I hobbled and limped, whined and sobbed, clutched my aching back and cried, “Are we nearly there yet?” Hubs stopped speaking to me, which I suspect was more painful for him than it was for me.

Finally locating our car on the outskirts of the city, we set off for our next destination… Darlington. On the way we tried to find Hadrian’s Wall but couldn’t… its only 84 miles long!

We stopped on the border to say out goodbyes/sob a while.

On the other side of the road, the road leading into Bonnie Scotland, there was a hot food stall and a piper in full costume amusing all the newly arrived visitors. On our side, heading into Sassenach country, there was an ice-cream van. Uh huh.

In England we encountered a new bypass and both watched Ken with a kind of fascinated glee as he attempted to figure out where we were and couldn’t (and I was glad, glad I tell ya!).

We’d been travelling for five days by now and were getting a bit road weary. We were on our way home and the excitement of our thousand mile journey had worn off. Just one more hotel to go.

We pulled up outside a gorgeous looking inn and went inside. I headed towards a man at a table, who glanced at me and then looked away. I wondered if he was perhaps a local businessman who rented this table in a pub and didn’t want to be disturbed. Hubs, however, who’s middle name is Bluntandgobby, bellowed for attention, and we booked in.

Nice place, very pretty with a glorious garden by a river, but a teeny bit stuffy. The waiters (no waitresses) all wore waistcoat uniforms and stared shyly at their feet like public schoolboys who’d just been flogged by some cruel prefect.

Our room was in a separate annex and had a fabulous bathroom. We promptly collapsed onto the bed and fell asleep.

Once we’d regained consciousness we headed for the coffee corner. The tiny kettle only had a 12” power chord – it was like Land of the Giants. We had to put it on the floor to boil it.

Aaaand off to the lounge for din-dins.

Odd people in the restaurant, travellers like us who were staying the night. A couple at the next table didn’t speak to each other at all, whilst behind us a man was telling his female companion what to do: “You shouldn’t let her dictate to you like that, you should stand up for yourself!” he announced pompously. When asked by the shy waiter if they wanted a pudding, the man actually said (and I quote), “Oh I think we’ll revisit that question a little later, don’t you?” I mean, who speaks like that?

I had a Thai Green Curry because, having been away from Birmingham’s Balti Belt for a good few days, I was a throbbing husk of longing. It had a lot of lime in it.

I would be revisiting both the Lime Curry and the Pompous Man later, but first, a sit on the decked area overlooking the stream, a couple of pints and a long yak about our trip.

Rang Middle Son to remind him to pick the dog up from the kennels. “Have you missed us?” I asked, because I never pass up a chance to embarrass my offspring.

“Yes,” he said.

“What, really?” I gasped, waiting for the punchline.

“Yes,” he said again.

Wow, we can’t be such sad old gits after all, or at least we’re sad old gits that people actually miss.

Aaaaand… to bed.

I was woken in the night by two things. Firstly, the curry. It was only when I ran to the bathroom that I heard the People Next Door arguing… or rather, just a man’s voice yelling in a pompous way. Secondly, a short while later, the arguing woke me up again. A door slammed, and then I heard a woman quietly sobbing in the hallway outside our room.

He’d thrown her out!

Should I go out and comfort her, kick down the door and bash the Pompous Git’s head in, or would that just embarrass her? Should I go out and offer advice, a chair to sleep in perhaps, or would the Pompous Git come out and bash my head in? While I was tossing and turning with indecision, a door creaked open and the crying stopped… he’d let her back in again.

I hugged Hubs tightly, suddenly grateful.

DAY 7 – Saturday 1 August – Darlington to Birmingham

We got up at 6.30 and quietly packed. It was raining.

In the car we both said, “Let’s go home,” and belted it down the motorway.

We’d done 1300 miles in six days, taking in four Scottish cities (Glasgow, Aberdeen, Dundee and Edinburgh), countless lakes and lochs, and the glorious Scottish Highlands. Our car (I don’t know what model, we’ve only had it three years… its silver though) performed magnificently, but Ken is now consigned to a bottom drawer and may never see the light of day again.

Going away is great, but coming home is even better.

10 minutes after we’d flung our suitcase in the bedroom and dug out the Indian Takeaway menu, I casually said, “Shall we do Ireland next?”

I won’t repeat Hubs’ answer.

THE END

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