Thursday, 29 April 2010

Scotland holiday, day 22: Aldbourne

Aldbourne is a village up on the Wiltshire downs, north west of Hungerford. M--- and I have just enjoyed a really nice evening meal at the village pub, the Blue Boar. Scotland was left behind two days ago, and the holiday is nearly over. Yes, we made it through three weeks and 3,100 miles of travelling in a small caravan. Still talking, still able to joke, not too many awkward moments. We get home tomorrow and pick up the routine of our individual lives. We will both be very tired. But it was a great holiday - as you will soon see on my Flickr site.

Once immediate essentials have been dealt with - washing clothes, ironing, food shopping - I am looking forward to taking delivery of the Volvo. I'm also going to have another stab at selling my old home. And there's a lot of blogging to be done!

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Scotland holiday, day 14: Brora

Brora is a sunny little town on the A9 south of Helmsdale. We used it as a touring base.

We made it to John o'Groats, on a windy but sunny afternoon. It was magical to see the Orkney Islands further north. The sun lit up the high red sandstone cliffs of Hoy. From Dunnett Head - the REAL most-northerly point on the British mainland - you could see the top of the towering Old Man of Hoy. We also 'did' Wick and Thurso on the same day. Grey towns. I caught the arrival of the afternoon train at Wick. Three train crew, one passenger. Nice, spruce station.

Next day we undertook a long tour into the far north-west, via Lairg, Tongue, Smoo Cave, Durness, Kinlochbervie and Loch Shin. Gaunt, snow-capped mountains; rugged coast; bleak, exposed rock and windlashed lochs. We encountered several wintry showers on the VERY lonely single-track roads - exciting, but what if we'd broken down? Fortunately the Honda has continued to behave.

Tomorrow we move south-west and will visit Skye (yes, the Cuillins are calling).

Sunday, 18 April 2010


I'm at Chanonry Point, by Fortrose, and I'm looking at two dolphins only just offshore. Myself, M---, and thirty other people all mesmerised. They're feeding, presumably. And I came up the beach simply for the lighthouse! What a bonus.

Saturday, 17 April 2010

Election fever in whisky country

I spotted two General Election name-things today in Fortrose and Cromarty - you know, those little cardboard or plastic plates bearing the names of party candidates that get attached to lamp-posts. One was Charles Kennedy for the LibDems. Gosh, it must be THE Charles Kennedy! I looked forward to bumping into him, but oddly there was no encounter. The other was a Conservative man called Cameron. What, a serious head-to-head in these remote northern parts? Alas, on a closer look it was Donald, not David, Cameron. Oh well, Charles will see him off and he'll lose his deposit. Especially after Mr Clegg's recent TV performance. My goodness, this may be the Election the Liberals have waited 90 years for. A sobering thought!

Scotland holiday, day 10: The Black Isle

Back online. Thank goodness. I'm sorry that a week and a half has passed since my last post. The places we take the caravan are so out-of-town that there is simply no mobile phone coverage, and that makes going online with the phone for posting (or emailing, or texting, or voice calls) impossible. I get reception in towns of course, but that's during the daytime when either I'm driving, or else it's just too hard to grab half an hour by myself for putting a post together. And until this moment I haven't been able to read anyone else's posts either. Lots of catching-up to do.

M--- and I have had several pleasant meals out, and the weather has stayed sunny and blue-skied most days. M--- has done quite a bit of on-the-ground family history work in Aberdeenshire, with myself as the driver. By now we have travelled very far northward, via North Berwick, Edinburgh, Aberdeen, Peterhead, Fraserburgh, Huntly, Elgin and Inverness. The Black Isle is a peninsula on the north side of the Moray Firth. Our caravan is barely fifty feet from the beach and faces Fort George across the water. Off to the left is Rosemarkie village, off to the right is Chanonry Point lighthouse, and in a short while we'll be walking into nearby Fortrose for some fish and chips. And surely those are dolphins just offshore?

We're here two nights, then move northwest to Thurso and John O'Groats, the 'end of the road' for going north on the mainland of Great Britain. No doubt it'll be seething with stout-hearted people of all kinds who have made it by various means from Lands End in the extreme southwest of Britain to this extreme northwesterly point! We ourselves have covered nearly 1,100 miles and between us taken nearly 2,000 photos. I've certainly been averaging 180 per day recently. A pity that placing some of them on Flickr will have to await my return home!

The Honda has behaved itself, but I daren't push it too hard. The waterworks on the caravan are now in a bad state, and so we are filling up a collection of small bottles and pouring water out of them as required. Surprisingly, it isn't especially inconvenient.

If I can, I'll do a John O'Groats special in a couple of days time.

Thursday, 8 April 2010

Scotland holiday, day 1: Home to Threekingham

We got to Threekingham around 6:00pm after a sunny journey that was marred by the Honda's auto gearbox overheating on the M25 near Heathrow, just one hour after starting. For a short while it seemed to put the entire holiday in jeopardy. But once the gearbox had cooled down, and would change up and down properly, we made good progress. It's clear, though, that the Honda will have to be nursed along.

Then at our destination, three little setbacks. The water pump got stuck in its socket on the side of the caravan - I'd used the wrong lubricant. I should have used a smidge of Vaseline. Lacking that, I'd used KY jelly. Big mistake - when dry it was like glue. Eventually we got it out, and relubricated it, but the socket was by then cracked and not a pretty sight. What else? The kitchen tap decided to leak, and the microwave oven died. Oh well.

Not a very good start. I panicked quite a bit. M--- thought I behaved like a diva.

Scotland in my caravan

I'll keep this short - it's nearly 1.30am and I need to get to bed. In the morning we are off to Scotland for three weeks, intending to return on 28 April. 'We' is myself and ex-partner (but still close friend) M---.

We go up there in stages. First night will be on a farm at Threekingham in Lincolnshire. Second night on a farm at Husthwaite on the edge of the North Yorks Moors, but not too far from York itself. Third night we arrive at the Caravan Club site at Yellowcraig near North Berwick in Scotland. We will be there for four nights, and one of the things we'll be doing is to attend a lecture at the Edinburgh Science Festival on chromosomes.

After Edinburgh we have another two weeks to tour the rest of Scotland. M--- wants to visit the Regimental Museum of the Gordon Highlanders in Aberdeen and present them with material (including a copy of a war diary) relating to her grandfather, who was a prisoner of war during World War I, and something of a hero for what he did on behalf of his fellow-prisoners. I want to see John O'Groats. The rest depends on the weather. Ideally, we'll work our way up the west coast, seeing Skye and Ullapool and ending up near Thurso. Then we travel down the east coast with several detours inland.

I'm hoping that we can work in the Lake District on the way home, but that depends on how the time goes. We went to Scotland back in 2002, spending 15 nights there, with no overnight stops in England going up or returning. This time we will have stops in England on the way there and back, and perhaps 17 nights in Scotland, but it's a big place and it's difficult to do it justice in such a short time. I expect that, as before, we'll be reluctant to go home.

There are three people in Scotland I would make a point of seeing, if travelling on my own - Caroline, Karen and Linda. The first is Caroline of In Search of Lost Time, with whom I have a standing invitation to share coffee and a bun. The second is Karen of Shadows of a Dream. The third is the lassie who called at the Clare Project in Brighton last summer, and got in touch with me out of the blue only yesterday - see my post 'A Visit to the Nuffield Hospital in Brighton' on 22 August 2009. But it's a long-awaited holiday for M--- and I'm not going to desert her. So next time, girls. I am gradually forming a group of 'Northern' friends and one day, perhaps before the end of the summer, I will go on a grand tour and see everyone in turn. I will look forward to that.

Needless to say, the camera will get red-hot snapping Scotland. I do hope the weather is kind. I'll be posting as usual, but I still haven't discovered how to insert pictures into posts made using my mobile phone. So it'll probably be text-only until I get home again.

This will be the Honda's last big outing. We covered 2,750 miles on our last trip to Scotland, and I expect the mileage to exceed 3,000 this time. So there will be well over 138,000 miles on the clock when we return. But then within two weeks I'll get my hands on the Volvo. A check at the dealers yesterday established that delivery is presently scheduled for 14 May, although it might easily turn out to be a few days earlier. So two excitements to come home for - the General Election on 6 May, as unpredictable as the Grand National, and then the more lasting pleasure of a new car, the first new car I've ever had in my whole life, and no doubt the last one too. Actually, four excitements, if you count a check-up at the dentist on 4 May (I hope nothing to be seen to) and another visit to Trevor Sorbie for a wee cut on 11 May (pure pleasure)!

Saturday, 3 April 2010

Admiral Sir Cloudsley Shovell (1650-1707)

This eminent seafarer, who was also Member of Parliament for Rochester in Kent, had a dire end, shipwrecked on rocks in the Isles of Scilly off Cornwall. All hands were lost, but Sir Cloudsley himself was washed ashore some miles away, and one story has it that he made it ashore still alive but was butchered for his emerald ring, things being pretty lawless in the Isles of Scilly at the time. Sounds like the sort of thing that might happen off the coast of Somalia nowadays.

Now what is my slight connection with him?

Well, he was constantly mentioned by my late uncle D--- (that's the uncle who left me enough money to buy the Volvo with). D--- was a voracious reader of biographies, and apt to be hugely impressed by anyone who had had an interesting life. Then he would tell us all about it, at length. I particularly remember Sir Cloudsley Shovell, not so much for the horrible thought of his finger being hacked off for the ring, but because of his strange name. I wondered how on earth he survived childhood.

You can imagine it. 'My name's Bill. I'm the biggest boy in the village. I hate cissies, I do. Wot's your name, then?' 'Oh, it's Cloudsley, actually.' Yes, there is no way any child could live long and prosper if saddled with that kind of name. I don't think he went to Eton or Harrow, but I imagine he still went to a school for Young Gentlemen Who Have Influential Uncles Willing To Establish Them In A Naval Career, and I conjecture that he had an even worse time at that school, probably getting thrashed, humiliated and tortured by his barbarous schoolmates every day. Tom Brown's Schooldays with knobs on, in fact. Stretched across the Remove fireplace and roasted on both sides. Even when he was a little older, and a proper young naval officer, he probably had to endure the irrepressible smirks and giggles of the crew, who doubtless got themselves up in drag and risked a hanging, so great was the urge to lampoon him. Nevertheless, he ended up being highly regarded, a national hero, abeit eventually fingerless.

I suppose this is a post about nothing much more than a bit of reminiscencing provoked by coming across this handsome Queen Anne building in the old High Street of Rochester two days back. The plaque above the entrance says that Sir Cloudsley had it built.

Rochester is more famous for being the place where Charles Dickens lived for the last ten years of his life. It does indeed have a Dickensian air to it, complete with streetwalkers at night, so I'm told. Streetwalkers were an important part of the Victorian Underworld, and their plight was one that Dickens and others such as Henry Mayhew strove to bring attention to.