Scotland West Coast

August 10

Before setting off today Ros and I climbed up to Varrich Castle, on the high point overlooking the town and The Kyle of Tongue.

A pretty climb up through the heather all in flower with magnificent views once we got there.

Back to the car to follow the recommended route for the day which took us out along the B869, a winding, single lane, up and down track around the coast line with numerous view points over lochs and rivers.

However, it rained most of the way so we did not stop to admire too many views. One upside of the rain was that the waterfalls and creeks were running at full capacity! One fisherman was taking full advantage of the flow (although his basket looked quite empty).

A lunch stop at the remote town of Lockinver (with a 2 hat restaurant!) where we stopped at the pie shop which had numerous pies and potatoes, including a haggis filled beauty!

Tonight’s stop was at the Dundonnell Hotel, a huge edifice standing all alone on the side of Little Loch Broom, which in this case was a tidal loch and hence with a remarkable tidal belt of mud and grass mounds.

North Coast of Scotland

Wednesday August 9

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As on many MG events, the cars were lined up this morning for a photo.

With Lock Stennes as background, David directed the cars to be driven onto the lawn and the photographers raided one of the higher bedrooms for ‘the photo’! Embarrassingly, David asked that we move Goldie to the front of the photo (John had parked at the back to start with).

We were then waved away for a short drive to the ferry back to the mainland. On the way we were able to visit the Italian Church. The church was built by the Italian POWs  involved with building the Churchill Barriers. The church was built by joining two nissen huts lengthways with a stone front facade and then the church was painted inside. The church has been preserved and is still used once a month for a catholic service.

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Leaving the ferry we drove west and then out to Dunnet Head, the most northerly point of mainland Britain.

Cold and windy is the best way to describe the headland, although the views were 210 degrees and the bird life soaring on the drafts, magnificent.

Along the north coast with vistas over beaches, lochs, heather and winding rivers

to the town of Tongue to a hunting lodge turned hotel for the night. Before dinner drinks were served in the small bar attended by the owner and then followed a three course dinner. We are finding the large Scottish breakfast with eggs, bacon, sausage, black pudding, tomatoes, mushrooms and fried bread will last us all day until we sit down to delightful dinners with wine along with our 46 travelling friends.

Two Days in the Orkneys

Day 2 – Neolithic Orkney

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We began the day with a visit to Maeshowe, a Neolithic tomb. From the outside Maeshowe looks like a grassy knoll, though a very perfect one! However, on one side there is a low entrance, not much more than a metre high. This entrance leads to a six metre long tunnel which ends in a large central room about five metres in height. In the four corners of the room are what look like ancient standing stones, reused for decorative purposes. They serve no functional purpose. Three sides of the square room contain an embrasure cut into the wall. These embrasures were used to house the bones of the people entrusted to the tomb. In Neolithic times (could be 5,000 years ago) bodies were left outside for nature to clean the bones before they were interred. In the 1153 the Vikings, sheltering from a storm broke into the tomb and graffitied the walls: this graffiti is now almost as important as the Neolithic construction of the tomb.

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Then it was off to the Ring of Brodger, a very large ring of standing stones (hecne the hotel name as it looks over the stones), Ness of Brodger, a recently discovered (2002) Neolithic ‘village’ which is currently being excavated, and also Scara Brae, a Neolithic village which was built underground.

It was interesting to see work being done on an actual archaeological dig. Work began in 2005 and one couple who were here a few years ago was astonished by how much had been accomplished in the intervening time. The site is only active during the summer months when universities are on break and academics and students have the time to invest in the actual work of excavating the site.

Scara Brae is extraordinary. Eight houses were discovered after a fierce storm stripped the turf from the top of one of the houses exposing the remains of the underground house below. The houses are all built to a pattern with a hearth in the middle, two beds on facing walls, a stone dresser for storage and display. There is one building which does not fit this pattern and, as a result of the artefacts found there, it is thought to be a workshop for the village. All the houses were connected by underground tunnels.

We also visited Skraille House where William Watt of Skaill, the local laird lived while he led the excavation of Scara Brae and which was his family’s home until recently.

It was a beautiful sunny day so it seemed the perfect time to take the top down and go for a scenic drive. So, from Scara Brae we drove north through some magnificent countryside to visit the memorial to HMS Hampshire.

The memorial was built in memory of the HMS Hampshire and the men lost when, with Lord Kitchener, then British Secretary of State for War, on board it struck a mine and exploded. The seas were wild and many of the men who survived the explosion subsequently died from exposure.

On the way back to the hotel we visited the town of Stromess which has a very large working harbour. The town had a pleasant pedestrian precinct which we strolled along while John enjoyed an ice cream. The sun is out, it must be summer, so ice cream.

This is summer in Scotland, and so the beaches are in use with people swimming. This day was sunny and inviting, but still it was only about 17C! However, the really cold water flowing down from the Arctic has not yet arrived. We have not been tempted to go swimming!

Two Days in the Orkneys

Day 1: Wars and modern history

We are in Orkney, staying at the Standing Stones Hotel in the township of Stennes, on the Orkney island known, confusingly, as the Mainland.

This morning a quick drive took us to another ferry to travel across to the island of Hoy to visit the Scarpa Flow museum. The museum comprises the entire area once used by the Royal Navy as a base. The Scarpa Flow harbour sheltered the British fleet in both WWI and WWII. Now decommissioned, the base is one large outdoor museum, with some of the remaining buildings housing both video and static presentations.

There is a wealth of information here and the two and a half hours we had here was simply not enough. Had we known the scope of the information contained in the museum we would have tried to stay longer. The old pump house houses the biggest collection of information ranging across the two wars.

Even though the display covered these two wars, Scarpa Flow was important even during the Napoleonic wars!

John’s comment, as a colonial, was that he did not realise the significance of this harbour on the far north of Scotland. Basically from this point the British were able to keep an eye on the French and then German North Sea fleet and keep them ‘boxed in’ on the coast. Of course, the Germans still had Atlantic access via the Baltic, but stopping activity directly onto the North Sea was critical.

In WWl the British Fleet, named the Grand fleet, met the German fleet, named the High Seas Fleet, in the Battle of Jutland (May/June 2016) where, although the British lost more tonnage of ships, they still maintained supremacy of the North Atlantic. A couple of further skirmishes occurred, however the High Seas fleet was effectively kept in port. Having advance warning of the German sailing intentions certainly helped!

A further notable event in the history of WWl was the loss of the HMS Hampshire on 5 June 1916 with Lord Kitchener on board (see below!)

After the Armistice in November 2018, the German fleet was corralled in Scarpa Flow for the time it took to negotiate a surrender (held up by the British demanding reparation for the costs of the war) and were still there in June 1919 just days before the armistice was due to mature. The German fleet was held in the harbour with no shore leave and German boats delivering supplies to the captured ships. As the British Fleet prepared to sail in June and the Germans, thinking that the truce had failed and in order to ensure that their ships did not fall into enemy (ie British) hands, scuttled the fleet in the evening of June 21. In all 52 of the 74 ships were sunk in what became known as the Grand Scuttle.

Following the war, the biggest salvage operation in then naval history took place. Ships this big had never been salvaged before and so the salvage company had to invent new salvage methods to effect retrieval of the vessels.

Also on display was a model of the harbour at Scarpa Flow with 1:250 scale models of the German fleet. These accurate and to scale models were produced by a German citizen and donated to the museum.

Move forward to WWll: of particular interest to us is the sinking of HMS Royal Oak in October 1939 during WWII while it lay at harbour in Scarpa Flow. Block ships had been sunk in four of the possible entrances to the harbour and this was thought to be sufficient to protect the fleet from German U-boats. However, this turned out to be incorrect and a U-boat did sneak in and torpedo the Royal Oak. Churchill, then First Lord of the Admiralty, visited Scarpa Flow and immediately ordered the closure of the four entrances by means of dumping huge concrete blocks across the channels, effectively closing them. These barriers became known as Churchill’s Barriers. Today, they carry road traffic and effectively link the separate islands.

Due to a shortage of manpower, the British utilised the Italian POWs captured in North Africa to build the barriers. The Italian prisoners strongly felt the need for a place to worship. The British made this possible by providing them with two Nissan huts which were joined together. The Italians then decorated the church and it remains to the present day, still used for worship, as a record of their presence.

There were other items from the war on display and I found the fold up bike of particular interest. This bike was parachuted behind enemy lines along with soldiers infiltrating enemy territory. Land, retrieve the bike, unfold it, hop on and ride way! Ingenious. First manufactured in 1942, 70,000 folding bikes were produced during the war.

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We then returned to the main island and visited Highland Park Distillery. The distillery has been operating in the Orkneys since 1798 by Magnus Eunson and is one of the few distilleries which still has its own traditional malting floor. We were taken on a tour of the distillery, which was interesting if a bit glib (we have certainly been on better on Islay and Jura and at Glenfiddich), before being given the chance to try their twelve year old whisky and to compare it to the ten year old, which we had tried before the tour. We did learn a few things, especially about the ‘length’ of whisky, but you did feel as if the next tour was about to begin and your time was up.

We then drove into Kirkwall to look at St Magnus’ Cathedral and wander around the pedestrian precinct and shops. The Cathedral was founded in 1137 in honour of Magnus Erlendssson, Earl of Orkney, who was killed by his cousin. Magnus’ nephew, Rognvald, came from Norway to claim the earldom and commenced the cathedral in Magnus’ honour. At this time the Orkneys were part of Norway and did not return to Scottish ownership until 1468 when they were pledged as the dowry of his daughter Margaret to James III: dowry not paid, islands became Scottish!

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It is a magnificent building. Made from the red sandstone which is endemic to the area, the outside and inside of the Cathedral are striking with some striking stained glass windows contributing to the overall beauty of this amazing building. There is an A3 double-sided guide to the Cathedral which is laminated and which you can carry around with you as you explore the building. This makes a visit to the Cathedral that much more interesting and informative. This includes  information about the various tombstones, liberally adorned with skull and crossbones ad the panel pd beautiful paintings done by students.

Back to the hotel where, after dinner John and I were asked to give a short presentation about our Silk Road trip. We kept it to 10 minutes and were overwhelmed by the interest our fellow travellers took in our trip.

 

 

Lewis and Harris to the Orkney Islands

Leaving Lewis and Harris

We had to be up very bright and early to catch the 7.00am ferry across to the mainland.

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Arriving in Ullapool after a very uneventful crossing, we turned north and headed for Tain on the east coast.

We will be joining the MGCC Caledonian Chapter tour of the Orkneys and Northern Scotland. Most of the cars were leaving on the Saturday morning from Stirling, however as this was south of Ullapool where the ferry docked we took a short cut and headed straight for Tain.

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Ullapool harbour in the early morning light

The west coast is a fabulously wild, rugged and beautiful part of Scotland, however today it rained making the trip just that little less beautiful. The heavy rain let up after about 20 minutes but light showers plagued us throughout the day. We did see a very unusual road caution sign along the way, one we had not seen before.

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We did stop once at the little village of Bonar Bridge in order to have a cup of tea and shortbread. We found a pleasant café overlooking the river and enjoyed a wee break! Scotland seems to be covered in a beautiful purple/pink flower. I have yet to learn it’s name, but great swathes of it growing by the roadside are striking.

Then it was on to Tain. Tain is the home of Glenmorangie Whiskey and, as we had plenty of time, we dropped in for a wee dram. We declined the distillery tour as we had done about five of these in 2013 and have one booked on the Orkneys, but we did try three of their whiskeys. It is really amazing how toasting the malt differently or using a different cask to age the whiskey can result in completely different flavours.

Glenmorangie has the tallest stills in Scotland, so their mascot is the giraffe. John couldn’t help himself, he bought a Glenmorangie giraffe wood cover. I do wonder about the comments he will get on the golf course!

We arrived early in Tain so spent some time driving around the streets and walking the main street to see what there was on offer. It is Saturday afternoon, so most of the shops were closed, though we did visit a glass blowing workshop which had some beautiful pieces. Unfortunately all were totally unsuitable to taking home in a MG!

Then off to the hotel to await the arrival of the rest of the tour group: twenty eight cars in total coming from all over England and Scotland and two from Canada. Goldie felt totally at home amongst a gaggle of MGs again.

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The Caledonian MGCC are a delightful bunch of folk, who immediately welcomed us to their tour. We met the organisers over a pint (or 2) before dinner and then spent a very relaxed evening meal with further tourers. The accommodation is DBB, so we sat down to a three course dinner with Scottish main course specialties of salmon, huge lamb shanks or chicken stuffed with haggis, of all things (plus of course the vego option). This was followed by very sweet desserts, or cheese. All this set us up well after a long day with nothing to eat since morning tea!

To the Orkneys

We set off just after 9.00am and headed for Dunrobbie Castle, about 20 miles north. When we arrived we discovered it did not open until 10.00am and we have a ferry to catch so we could not wait. We did, however, have a walk to the ocean to view the castle perched up on the hillside.

The drive up the east coast to the ferry terminal took us through some beautiful scenery with cliff top views over tranquil seas and contented cows having a rest – with all that green grass I am sure they can have their fill by 10am and spend the rest of the day relaxing sniffing the breeze or what ever cows do (that’s right, chew their cud). Cows were mixed with sheep so there was always a mixture of little white dots and bigger brown ones on each side of the road. Out to sea we could spy oil rigs sucking up all the North Sea oil, but not a sign of their activity on shore at all. Very pristine.

We were lucky that the weather was crystal clear with blue skies (well mostly) but more importantly, no rain. So what a drive up the coast to John O’Groats, the most northerly inhabited point in the United Kingdom. Goldie has now travelled from Land’s End, the most southerly point, to the most northerly point.

From Land’s End it was onto the ferry at Gilles Bay for the one hour trip to the Orkneys. Of course, while waiting for the ferry someone put a bonnet up an immediately there were interested  onlookers. This is after all an MG event, there always has to be at least  one bonnet raised!

Boy, do they know how to use every square centimetre of space when they pack these ferries full of cars, trucks and buses! The sun is shining, finally, and everyone chose to sit out on the top deck.

When we arrived John took the roof down, which was great as we really appreciated the view plus, with the sun shinning and the heater on full blast we almost didn’t notice that the air temperature was no more that 14 degC! When in the sun it was warmer as the radiant heat quickly warms you up, but with a little wind it sure feels a lot colder.

A pleasant crossing with a very interesting rip in the water where two tides met and created significant turbulence that even the heavy ferry couldn’t entirely smooth out. As we approached Orkney harbour it was very easy to see the gun emplacements left over from WWll. The Orkneys often sheltered the British fleet during the war and both the gun emplacements and Churchill’s Barriers are a stark reminder of that war.

Off the ferry and then it was time to drive over some of Churchill’s Barriers. The barriers were erected, at the direct orders of Winston Churchill when Lord of the Admiralty, after the sinking of HMS Royal Oak at her mooring in the natural harbour of Scapa Flow in a night time attack by a German submarine. Previously the sunken block ships had seemed protection enough for the harbour, but this attack proved otherwise. The four barriers now carry traffic between the islands.

The islands now attract cruise ships, sometimes with 3,000 plus people descending on the island when a big cruise ship docks. There is a ship visiting currently, however she is only carrying 1,000 passengers.

These islands, at first glance, with their gently undulating green hills are vastly different to the Hebrides. we had left w day ago.orkney_9

Lewis and Harris: Day 6

August 4

So, we are now at the end of our week on Lewis and Harris and we are having a ‘domestic’ day.  Washing, packing (again) and some tender care for Goldie.

Last night I found that the boot was wet again (I guess if we drive in rain it will get in).  So out with everything in the boot (how I don’t enjoy the unpacking and repacking of everything into their nooks and crannies) and bring the boot carpet inside to dry in front of the heater. Yes, we had a heater on in mid-summer but found it quite comfortable.

Ros vacuumed the car and discovered that the floor mats were also wet, so more drying in front of the heater.  I have tried to tape over every hole or nut I can find in the floor of the car and boot for the third time, let’s see if maybe I have got it now.

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After washing we even did some ironing.  Will feel different wearing ironed clothes as the last iron we saw was at least nine countries ago!

We are eating the last of our food: nothing like a mixed bag for lunch and dinner but also nothing like cooking for ourselves and eating at leisure rather than in a restaurant.

Ros has started on the September issue of Opposite Lock, the MG Car Club Sydney magazine which she edits.  She just said that it’s amazing how you forget quirky things about InDesign after not using it for four months.  While we have been away an amazing friend, Veronica, has been preparing Opposite Lock for Ros and even did an extra month without needing to.  But now it’s back to Ros to prepare on-the-fly.

And I seem to have spent half the day blogging, but nothing feels as good as being up to date!

Tomorrow we join the MG Car Club Caledonian Centre’s week trip out to the Orkneys and so we will be back to daily drives with someone else arranging the tour without, we hope, any starts earlier than 10 or 11am!

Almost packed now as we are leaving on the 7am ferry, with a check in time of 6:15 and a half hour drive to get there.  At least the ferry offers breakfast so we can relax and dine for the 2.5 hours the trip takes.

We have loved our time on Lewis and Harris, fabulously wild, rugged and beautiful islands,  and if you are very coming this way we can highly recommend Moorpark Cottages, where we have been staying.

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Lewis and Harris: Day 5

August 3

At last a day with a weather forecast that sounded reasonable: morning showers and perhaps even some sun in the afternoon, so we headed off down to the Harris end of the island.

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It was about an hour and a half drive to Tarbert, the main town on Harris, with the climb over the low mountains between Lewis and Harris being most spectacular.

As well as the mountains, the two parts are divided by a loch on each side of the hills: Seaforth and Resort.  In Talbert we stopped for morning tea with cakes and scones.

We then set off on the circular drive (yes, another one) around the island, going down the west coast first, past some very beautiful beaches that would be at home at Pacific Palms.

There was even a guy giving surfing lessons: we did note that everyone had on head to toe wet suits as the water was a bit too chilly to encourage us to dive in.

All along the coast there are inlets and coves, many providing a toe hold for villages or just lone crofts with a few farm implements scattered around. We got used to telling if a water way was loch or ocean: the ocean has tides and kelp, the lochs steep banks and grass to the edge.

At one stage we came across a tidal bay with patches of grass between the channels of seawater: alright for the ducks, but we did wonder about the sheep getting stranded.

Harris golf course was the next stop. Situated on a cliff over the ocean this was a fabulous wind swept course with amazing views.  Duncan, I have the card for you to admire.

Across the road were some new houses which looked to have been designed in the style of black houses: stone walls and turf roof.  Even the club house was backed into the hill and had a turf roof.

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Finally, we made it all the way south to Rodel. Once the major port for the island, it’s now just a settlement as the ferry port to the next island south, North Uist, is just up the road at Leverburgh.

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Various MacLeods have attempted to build up the town, fishing in the 1790s, grazing, and improvements such as the impressive St Clements church.  The church was started in the 1520s, and is hence medieval in design, and completed in 1540. It contains three tombs with sculptured scenes of Christ, apostles, children and bishops, plus a hunting scene and a galley under sail.

We returned up the east coast on a road known as the Golden Road, so named because it cost so much to build.  And they only built half of it, as it’s a single lane the whole way with the regular passing places: a spot where the bitumen widens out to 4 meters wide rather than the normal two.  No guard rails or warning signs for curves so Ros, today’s driver, was on careful watch the whole way while I enjoyed the spectacular views over the ocean and lochs. Apparently the road was only built in 1897 and before that the locals had to walk to their villages: up to miles to some crofts.

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Once off the Golden Road we came to Aline Community Woodland, an area that had been rehabilitated and a wooden walk way built to see the scenery.  A walk way is such a good idea as it allowed me to get up close to creeks and greenery without getting my feet water logged! Everywhere there is water and wet feet (or wellingtons) are part of life.

So, overall great scenery, wonderful views and the rain held off until we were driving home!

 

 

Lewis and Harris: Day 4

August 2

John decided to play golf and, rather than be completely bound to the cottage and walkable surrounds, I decided to drive him to Stornoway and so have the freedom of the car.

Having dropped John off I had intended to drive into the shopping area in Stornoway and get a couple of things I needed. However, it was such a beautiful day that the Eyre Peninsula beckoned and I decided to explore this area instead. The Eyre Peninsula runs east off the coast from Stornoway and is not long, about 15 miles from Stornoway to the lighthouse so an easy drive.

The first section is through what you would term suburbs, houses relatively close together along streets. Only in Stornoway does this sort of housing appear. Most houses on the island are scattered as they are generally crofts and so have some acreage with them. Once out onto the furthest section of the Peninsula that the sun came out, blue skies appeared and the scenery became more open and interesting, with water all around. There is a lighthouse at the end of the peninsula and it has, along with all other lighthouses, been automated. The buildings here are now used as kennels and a cattery. The sound of barking dogs was pretty continuous as I walked up the hill behind the lighthouse and then along the path to a spot designated as a good whale and dolphin watching point. None in sight today, unfortunately.

Then it was back into Stornoway for a cup of coffee and cake overlooking the harbour before walking around the few interesting shops over looking the harbour.

As the sun was now really hot and lovely I took myself off to the Lews Castle grounds for a walk along the harbour edge. The castle is rather grand to look at but has been turned into a hotel and function centre (It would be a lovely setting for a wedding!) so there is not much to see inside. However, the grounds are wooded and provide lovely walking tracks with great views back towards Stornoway.

Collected John from golf and as the day was still sunny I even suggested taking the roof down for the drive home (well we needed to do this at least once while on the island!).

John’s comment: enjoyable round on a very hilly course.

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Harris and Lewis: Day 3

August 1

A wet day so not much impetus to jump out of bed and head into the rain.  However we did, even if only to drive the ‘Little Circle’ from Loch Roag to Uig.

This drive, known especially for its beaches and popular with campers and trekkers, took us through a variety of scenery from vistas over beaches, into hills and through small villages.

We learnt a bit about crofts: basically crofts are small farms (a word from before the clearances in the mid 1800s) generally on long term lease hold from the absentee landlord.  The occupiers’ rights are well protected as he cannot be removed and has the right to stay indefinitely provided the rent is paid each year. For a small 7-8 acre croft we were told the rent was STG17 pa.  Occupiers have the right to buy out the lease for around 20 years rent (ie STG350 in the example) however as well as the purchase price there are the survey costs, land registration and legal fees (both sides) that are far more expensive that the purchase cost.  Once purchased, the occupier no longer needs to request permission to change the site (build a building, move a fence) although these request by leaseholders were rarely declined.  This is all a hang over from the clearances, the Land Wars (there are a few monuments around for this) and then the changes to agriculture from subsistence to sheep grazing, to kelp burning (to make potash for ammunition), to forests, to cattle combined with the effects of emigration and potato famines.

The land is not really very productive at all, with water everywhere (not just in the form of rain, but with so much rain there are creeks and lochs everywhere) and what’s left is pretty marshy.

The town of Uig has seen better days: no cafe anywhere and just an engine in the main street!

Tonight we celebrated Ros’ birthday at the best restaurant on the island: Forty North, named simply for its address.  Great food and a very congenial host, Bruce, who provided us with a bit of local knowledge.

For example the ferry we came across on does two return trips a day in summer for cars and passengers, from 7am to 9:30pm with each one way trip being about 2.5 hours.  Then at night it does a third trip for the trucks.  Mostly empty leaving the island (except for those carriers lucky enough to carry the some of the export of 500,000 tons p.a. of Harris Tweed: 40% to Japan!) and return in the early morning with supplies (making the ferry so much heavier that the trip takes 4 hours!).

Way up north on the islands there is a lot happening in the night: which by the way does not come until around 10 or 11pm. Which brings me to latitude: we are at 58 deg North, which is comparable to nowhere south in Australia (Hobart is 42 deg S) and even off the end of New Zealand (Slope Point is only 46 deg S) so we are a long way north of anywhere comparable to  south in Australia. Even further north than Goldie has even been south when we were in Ushuaia, Argentina (54.8 deg S).

 

 

Harris and Lewis: Day 2

July 31

Today we set off to drive ‘the circle’: around the middle of Lewis that takes in the most important sights on the island.

First up the Black House, an original stone and turf roofed house occupied until the 1960s and now pretty much as it was when the occupants left.  These cottages have stone walls to about 1.5 metres high and about ½ metre thick with a pitched roof (rafters of drift wood or broken up boat timbers) which is then covered with peat and straw.

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Basically there are four rooms: the barn for storing potatoes, straw and implements; the cattle room with the cattle tethered to the wall and spending the winter inside (extra heat!); the living area with a peat fire in the centre  of the room and then a second living area with curtained alcoves for a few beds with straw filled mattresses.

When spring comes the end wall of the cattle room is opened, the cattle let out and the winter’s worth of fertiliser taken out to the fields.  The straw roof is also taken off (lots of rotting materials plus the peat smoke) with the straw also spread across the fields as fertiliser.

Inside, a peat fire is alight all the time.  With no chimney, the smoke of the fire just hangs around until it finally finds a way out through the straw roof.  A kettle hangs over the fire and food cooked in open pans.  The room can be wall papered (the one we saw was originally, though no longer) with a bench along the wall and even an extra bed hidden in the corner.

Living area and bed area. Quite small isn’t it!

At the Black House Visitor Centre and shop we met our cottage hostess, Marlene, along with her daughter, who were on duty today.  Later in the day we met her husband, AK, when he delivered fresh cod fillets, which he had caught that day, to us. Living on the island is a closely related family affair. Marlene and AK’s son works in the local store and AK’s father, who lives across the road from the cottage, is a Harris Tweed weaver and sells scarves and table runners from his house.  Oh yes, and two days later we met AK’s sister.  A very friendly place this island.

Next the Whale Bone Arch: speaks for itself.

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We stopped at a home of a weaver: a small sign out the front and drive around the back to a shed where Anne was at work on her loom.  So, the story of Harris Tweed: the wool, obviously from sheep raised on the island, is dyed with natural dyes and, to be called ‘Harris Tweed’, the cloth has to be had woven on the island.

The looms are like many others but of course powered by hand (or indeed foot pedals) with the shuttle whizzing backwards and forwards on each throw. A weaver typically weaves around 30 meters a week: they are supplied with a pattern (which needs to be fed into the machine by way of clips on the side) and the yarn and then left to their own timetable.  Weavers can thus weave during the day while the children / grandchildren are at school, or when the work in the fields is finished or any other time they like.  A great variety of patterns and colours, not all too tweedy, but very distinctly Harris Tweed.

And then Taigh Mor, a broch from at least 100BC and likely occupied until 700AD. It is a round stone building about four stories high with slopping walls on the inside that enclose a wooden living area climbing up through the levels: level 1 the cattle; level 2 the work room; level3 the living / cooking area; and level 4 the sleeping area.  To think that this had been built in BC times and was still standing showed how well it was constructed with each stone fitting in to the next with no mortar, just the quality of construction holding it up.

Next on the circle were Standing Stones of Callanish, a prehistoric site with huge stones in a circle upright on the top of a hill with four more rows radiating out from the centre.  Again, no definite answer as to why they were erected: a temple? A village meeting place? A burial ground? An astronomical site? Or even a beacon over the ocean?

Not to worry, it was fascinating to visit something that was probably built in 2900BC. Equally interesting to me was that, although the stones today are upwards of 3 metres out of the ground, they were only discovered in 1857 when the build-up of peat around them was cleared and the stones clearly seen.

Time for a coffee and cake as it was now starting to rain a bit too heavily for too many more ‘outside’ activities.

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Will we be able to do this at Stonehenge?

A quick drive into Stornoway to see what the town had to offer (not as much as we had hoped) and a run through the supermarket to stock up.  We noticed that we have not seen a green grocer in Scotland: vegies come in pre-packaged containers, as indeed does meat, although we have found butchers in most towns. We do like the off-licence approach where every supermarket, local store and even petrol station sells wine, beer and stronger stuff.

Home to a great fresh cod dinner.

 

 

Harris and Lewis – Day 1

July 30

Our first day on the island of Harris and Lewis: confusingly one island although with a very narrow neck in the middle, which is not the divide between the 2 names! Lewis in the north and Harris in the south, with Harris also covering the lower third of the north island. Some history here I am sure. And yes, this is the home of Harris tweed: more on that later.

In 2013 when we left Goldie after the Cape Town to Cairo (and across Europe) trip we spent some time in Scotland, especially on the islands of Islay, Jura and Skye and we enjoyed these visits so much that Ros was keen to visit more of the wild wilderness that is the Scottish islands. And so here we are on Lewis and Harris for a week in a delightful cottage on the edge of a peat more! Ros choose well.

We are only 10 miles from the main town of Stornoway and central to all the island with a very local feel to it. The general store sells everything: petrol, papers, take away, wet suits, fishing gear, food and alcohol: what more could one want.

We had been following the weather forecast for the week and saw that each day showed rain! Fortunately, today is overcast but no rain, so the first order was to do the washing (does this sound like a recurring theme?) before setting out for a drive up the north west coast of Lewis to the town of Ness and the Butt of Lewis.

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Being Sunday was, however, a bit of an issue as everything, and we mean everything, is closed. No shops, no tourist sights, no restaurants, no cafes: even the golf course is closed and fishing is frowned upon. Must be a busy day in church. So, our visit was to the open air sights: the lighthouse, Steinicleit and the Ness port.

Even more interesting is the Clach An Trush Standing Stone, none knows why it is there: a marker from the sea? part of a building, who knows

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finally we were fascinated by the piles of cut peat drying out in the fields: fuel for heating in winter (and maybe even summer).

Sheildaig Lodge and two days in Scotland

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July 28We are staying at Sheildaig Lodge, an old hunting lodge on the shores of Gair Loch. We stayed here in 2103 and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. It was then a family owned and run business and the host, Luigi, was warm and welcoming. The place was fairly rustic but very comfortable and the food really good.

When booking this time I did think it looked like it had been refurbished, but didn’t think much more about it. As it turns out, the property has been sold to a company which owns a couple of other small boutique hotels. Yes, it had been refurbished, very tastefully and without in any way spoiling the original building. (Perhaps too many chandeliers?) However, gone was the family approach to visitors and to sitting with mine host in the bar and discussing life over whatever your chosen tipple was. This is now a business and, although the manager was affable and became friendlier over time, our initial impression was less than 100% favourable. No help lugging luggage up two flights of stairs, one of which was quite narrow and twisting, for instance.

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The lounge area is very relaxing, with a beautiful view out over the loch, and as some of the guests chose to sit there with a drink before dinner, this did allow you to meet and chat with other guests. We met Barry and his son and grandson who were on an all boys fishing holiday in Scotland. Barry had seen Goldie and asked after our travels. We learnt that he owned a 1937 MG TA, an E Type Jaguar and a drophead Lagonda, among other things. We had a good chat about old cars, and other things. Dinner, as it had been under Luigi, was a set three course meal in the lovely old dining room and the food was good. A very relaxing way to spend the evening.

After breakfast the following morning, John had the full catastrophe Scottish breakfast, we went for a walk up into the hills behind the lodge to the scene of a WWII plane crash. The day was threatening rain and was overcast and what was billed as a gentle climb was anything but. At times quite steep, the path was very rugged in parts and in parts very marshy. It was also quit narrow and sometimes difficult to discern. The view on the way up was impressive, if misty.

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However, with the help of a couple of signs, we did find our way to the crash site. The plane belonged to the US Air Force and had been returning to the US after the war with both crew and passengers on board. It never made it, crashing into rocks above a small loch, killing all on board. What staggered both of us was that so much of the plane remained lying loosely on the ground after so many years and was clearly identifiable.

After returning to the Lodge we set out in the car to explore the area more widely. First we drove to the end of the road on which the lodge is situated. The end of the road is literally, the end of the road, which just stops. We did see some hardies swimming off one of the beaches.

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The temperature never got above 14 degrees, and they call this summer! The houses along the way were very scattered, most of them would have been old crofting houses. Bizarrely, we came across a Royal Mail post box cemented into a rock on the crest of a hill.

Then we drove in the opposite direction, visited a pub by the loch for a pint and a pot of tea, and drove into the township of Gairloch. Interestingly we found a very tiny but very well stocked book shop and so, after browsing for awhile, we stocked up on a couple of books.

The drive did afford us some wonderful Scottish scenery including very relaxed local livestock! No need to go foraging all day here as there is plenty of lush green grass to nibble on even while you sit and relax. It’s a sheep’s life!

By the time we returned to the lodge it was raining. We opted not to drive any further but to dine at the lodge again. It would have been a 10km drive back into Gairloch to find anywhere else to eat and we were just too comfortable where we were to contemplate moving!

July 29: Sheildaig to Lewis and Harris

John had booked himself in for a falconry handling lesson, as one of the various activities the Lodge offered visitors. So, for an hour after breakfast (John indulged in the full catastrophe again) John, with Daniel the falconer, flew two of the 12 birds on site which belong to a falconry company and which were housed just behind the hotel.

Not only were the birds flown for hotel visitors they were used for a variety of other purposes, the most interesting of which was delivering the rings to the best man at wedding services! A novel and rather stunning way to ensure the best man did not forget the rings. Daniel did say they often had a standby plan in case someone startled the bird and it retreated to the rafters or nearby trees with the rings and refused to come down!

John was first introduced to Isabella, a Harris’ Hawk, a beautiful deep brown and russet bird with highly inquisitive and piercing stare. She was exceptionally well trained and flew between John’s gloved hand (encouraged by the pieces of chick placed there) and two big urns on the lawn outside the Lodge. Daniel explained how each hawk is only flown once per day as the food is the encouragement and once they have eaten enough they might just take to the trees and not move.

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Each bird is weighed each day and its food intake monitored to ensure it does not over eat and get lazy! All the birds in the falconry are placed outside each day for about 6 hours to ‘take air’: to warm up in the sun (in Scotland!) to flap its wings and balance on the perch. The area of the garden where they are perched is protected from predators by a wall behind and the birds being perched in a line so a winged predator cannot get a straight flight at them. Foxes are not a concern in the daylight and wandering dogs are more likely to get a quick peck if they get too close.

Then Daniel and John collected the Barn Owl to fly and Daniel asked if I would join in as it was easier for him if he could get the bird to fly between the two of us while he stood between and talked about falconry and the birds.

Of interest to me were some of the words and phrases which have entered the English language as a result of falconry. The two I particularly remember are: ’caddy’, coming from the word cadger, the person who carried a frame, while out hunting, on which the birds were perched and to which they were tethered; and the phrase, ‘at the end of one’s tether’, denoting the long tether used when training the birds: when they are at the fully trained they will be at the maximum length of the tether! This is different to the jesses by which the bird is held when on the glove.

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This was a fascinating hour and ended with John holding the Russian Steppe eagle, which was about four times the size of Isabella, weighing in at 7lbs. You could see John’s arm droop with the weight when the bird hopped across to his gloved hand. All in all, this was a fabulous hour.

Then it was into the car for the drive to Ullapool where we were to catch the ferry to Lewis and Harris. Next stop the Outer Hebrides. On the way we paid a return visit to … Gardens. We had visited the Gardens in 2013 and were impressed with the enormous range of plants, the rather lovely layout on this sloping landscape with the loch at the end of the garden. The more formal part of the garden is planted with a variety of flowering annuals interspersed with vegetables of all kinds.

We revisited the Gunnera, a plant we later saw in its native habitat in Chile, sometimes called Giant Rhubarb. The leaves of this plant are simply enormous.

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Since our last visit the house on the property has also been opened to the public and the whole display inside, apart from being original to the owners who left the property to the National Trust, focuses on the garden, gardening and cooking with the ingredients grown in the garden. The garden was well worth a return visit.

Then we drove to Ullapool, visiting a National Trust listed enormously steep gorge on the way, to catch the ferry to Lewis and Harris. We arrived a few hours early as we wanted to stock up for the next few days and have another look at Ullapool (yes we visited here in 2013) and were surprised to see that the reception for the ferry was already open. But then, being school holidays the ferry was full, over 130 cars (no trucks) and seeing the attendants stack the cars in the car park was  fascinating. A 2 ½ hour ferry trip and a drive to our cottage.

 

 

Some Days

25 July

So Ros has told me that I am still in a go-go mood. I guess after 102 days of getting up each day with the road to hit it has taken me some time to slow down. Monday today, and it’s raining so we slowed down to a stop. We had one outing to the local off licence to buy some wine to say thank you to our hosts.

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26 July

I played golf at Gog Magog, this time on the ‘Old’ course. Met a very friendly member to make up a two ball. Rain cleared to make for a delightful round. Ros went for a walk to Poslingford, across the fields, using the traditional footpaths and a fabulous walking map of the area which was in the house. We managed to arrange insurance on the car.

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27 July

Drove from Suffolk into the Borders area of Scotland on our way north.

                      The Stansfield church and some goodies for Ros to pat

Rained most of the way. We did stop briefly outside Newcastle to drop off a suitcase, currently superfluous to needs.

Into Scotland

28 July

Driving north again to Scotland, we stopped for coffee at what turned out to be a store/café catering to campers in the area. The store was focused on organic foods and had some of the best looking produce we had seen since arriving in England. It also has an impressive array of everything else from jams and pickles to beautiful looking breads and cheeses to just about everything else you could need. It would have been easy to stock up if we had been heading for a self catering venue t for the next couple of days. Alas we are off to an old hunting lodge, now a hotel.

We decided to visit Falkland Palace to break up the journey. We were unsure whether we had visited here on a previous trip and I certainly recognised earlier than Ros that in fact this was the case. The palace was built as a Royal Hunting Lodge and was the home of the Royal keeper who was responsible for running the estate, managing the palace and maintaining the Royal deer herd and stocks of hunting birds.

Sorry no photos allowed inside

The palace was built in Renaissance style from 1501 by first, James IV and then James V of Scotland (not England). In 1542 James V added the Royal Tennis Court. Mary Queen of Scots enjoyed staying in the Palace and shocked everyone by playing tennis in ‘britches’!

We also wandered around the beautiful gardens and watched some of the appropriately dressed National Trust volunteers playing tennis on the Royal Court.

After Cromwell became Lord Protector of England it was used to billet Cromwell’s troops. Eventually the palace fell into disuse and disrepair.

1887 The Marquis of Bute purchased the palace, was appointed Royal Keeper and began the restoration of the palace. Most of the palace was restored and then lived in by the Marquis and his family. Even today the family of the Marquis are responsible for the management of the estate and maintain a set of apartments in the palace. The rest of the palace is now under the auspices of the National Trust of Scotland and is, obviously, open to the public.

We visited the Keepers Apartments, the Chapel (Catholic no less), the Tapestry Gallery and the reconstructed Royal Apartments. In the beautiful chapel, which is still used for services today, we got talking with a very knowledgeable young girl who gave us a much needed lesson in Scottish versus English history and where the two crossed over and intertwined.

We also visited the Edwardian Library, used until just recently by the Marquis of Bute as his estate office, with its arched ceiling which was painted in tromp l’oeil style with a ship’s window echoing the actual window in the ceiling, portholes and other naval images.

Images of England

Here are few random pictures we have taken of England so far:

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Two English ‘summer’ days – 23 & 24 July

When we arrived in Stansfield I noticed that the village was going to hold a fair on the second Saturday we would be staying at Walnut Tree Cottage. So, on this particular Saturday we took ourselves off to the Stansfield Village Fair.

This was held at the village hall and the next door playing fields. We arrived to find a series of tents and stalls set up with, inside the hall, more stalls as well as a bar serving drinks, including beer and a few other alcoholic beverages, and a canteen serving the more traditional tea, coffee, cakes and scones.

The first event to catch our attention was the stunt man doing some of the usual and some unusual tricks. Juggling with huge wicked looking knives we have seen before, juggling on top of a precarious monocycle we have seen before, however riding a motorbike blindfolded between roaring chain saws was definitely a new one. Possibly the whole routine was a little drawn out, however it was all in good fun and we watched and applauded where appropriate. The audience was very slow to respond and I did think that Dangerous Steve (could he not think of a better name?) had to work pretty hard to get the audience to participate in the ‘thrills’ and the threatened spills.

There were also about eight classic cars on display, including a MGB which had a board out the front of it listing all its many travels. The gentleman who owned it was very proud of the trips the car had done, around England and across to the continent. He was a bit disconcerted, however, when I confessed to owning the MG he had seen parked in the street which had travelled thousands of miles across five continents of the world. We had a good chat, however, and whereas as John and I do virtually no real ‘work’ on Goldie, he did all the work on his car.

There was also a dog show as part of the fair and this was treated most seriously. Not a best in breed type of show however, events were based on obedience as well as handling, with even a Best in Show category. I don’t think being a pure bred dog mattered a hoot, just how well the dog behaved. It was perfectly obvious that most of the dogs had been trained with treats and still expected them. Many of the handlers walked with a fist full of goodies held firmly just in front of the dog’s nose. John and I thought the very well behaved dog who expected no treats and whose handler also had in tow two small children should have won. But he was not even placed. Total injustice. There was a very beautiful four year old Goldie there, Lexie, who came in for a great deal of attention from me. I needed a little of the Goldie dog type time as I am certainly missing our two beautiful girls.

John had a go at getting a prize by throwing hoops over the legs of upturned mannequins – to no avail. We also indulged by buying a beer and a Pimms. Then it was time to watch the Morris dancers. If ever there is a queer ‘sport’ or dance this is it. The dances are performed by all men, with long sticks and dressed to the nines, including flower bedecked hats. It was interesting to watch and the history of Morris dancing would be interesting to research. Did it, originally, have anything to do with practicing with staves, aka Robin Hood?

We have just about read all the books we had brought with us so these were replenished at the second hand book stall. Then it was time for tea and cakes: a Victoria sponge cake and a piece of lemon drizzle cake! How more English can you get?

Then we headed off to Bury St Edmund. We were a little unsure what we would find there, apart from the abbey ruins, which now make up a huge park, but it was not too far to drive and the abbey and cathedral sounded worth a visit.

You enter the park through a vast gate which once led into the abbey grounds.

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The abbey ruins are spread over a very large area and all this has been turned into parkland with the ruins sprouting up here and there in rather interesting shapes and structures.

Some of the original ruins have just been used as the walls of newer houses. The houses look a little like they have tunnelled into the old ruined walls.

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After walking a little way into the park we could hear a brass band playing so set off to investigate. We were treated to the last few pieces played by a band from France Cuivres d’Amiens, a band comprised of amateurs mentored by semi-professionals, which travels the world playing. They had been joined for this performance by a local brass band. The music was excellent, the chilly weather hardly encouraging for the audience. The hardies who had turned out to watch were all huddled under rugs.

I had another chance at a Goldie encounter. Tom was sitting patiently with the wife of one of the players and he was quite happy to be patted while we chatted with his owner.

Then we wandered off to the cathedral to be greeted with by the news that an organ recital, by a well known British organist, Roger Judd, organist at St George’s Chapel in Windsor castle, was about to begin. It was free, and we were invited to stay and listen. Which we did. The music was quite different to what we expected as the pieces were elegiac and quite muted compared to the triumphal hymns most often heard in churches.

We had booked to have dinner at one of the nearby pubs, the Crown at Hartnest, on the way home. The pub is set in a very lovely green lawn (too cold to dine outside, unfortunately) and has very good food. It was quite difficult to decide what to eat as there was such an interesting selection of food on the menu. We did enjoy both the food and the atmosphere. We also enjoyed chatting with the father and daughter at the next table and having a good long pat of their elderly rescue dog who had to have quite a lot of Kelpie in him. It is amazing to see dogs happily sitting under tables in pubs and cafes etc, and rather nice also. How good would it be to go out for the day walking the dog and know that if you wanted to stop for lunch you could do so without wondering what you were going to do with the dog while you lunched. I wouldn’t mind if Australia adopted a far more tolerant attitude to dogs! (Though perhaps I would not go so far as having them sit on your lap at the table as you sometimes see in parts of Europe.)

July 24 – The John Constable walk

The next day we set out for Essex and John Constable country. Mum and Dad have a print of Constable’s The Haywain hanging in their lounge room and so Constable has been a favourite of mine since I was quite young. Personally, I love his depictions of the English countryside, so today was rather special as we wandered the area he grew up in and painted so vividly.

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There are a number of walks you can do around the area and some of those walks take you past the spot where various paintings were composed and painted. The farmhouse and the small lake in The Haywain are still there today, changed to an extent by time, of course, but still very recognisable.

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The lock and dry dock, still in existence today, also feature in Constable’s paintings.

We walked for most of the afternoon, across fields full of cattle and beside a small river where many people were boating in small row boats which could be hired for an hour or the afternoon. John and I were happy to walk.

We wandered as far as the town of Dedham and visited the church and the rather picturesque graveyard adjacent to it.

We also watched as the local council groundsman fertilised the cricket pitch while his three dogs enjoyed themselves by chasing bunny smalls across the pitch and surrounding field. All three dogs were enjoying themselves hugely.

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We avoided the rain, which had been threatening all afternoon, by splitting up. John went to the pub for a pint while reading the papers and I went to the very large and interesting local art and craft shop where I enjoyed a leisurely half hour’s browsing without anyone asking if I had ‘finished yet’!

We walked back along the river to where we had left the car. All the boats were now moored on the river bank. The rain had driven everyone indoors. All in all, a very pleasant two days enjoying an English ‘summer’. Did I mention that the temperature on both days never got above 17 degrees!

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July 21 – Hardwick Hall, Derbyshire

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We made a quick departure from Blackpool with a stop over on the way home at Hardwick Hall, a NT property which has been beautifully preserved. Quoting from the NT brochure, with a few additions:

It was the formidable ‘Bess of Hardwick’ who first created the Elizabethan style Hardwick in the late 1500s. She was the second richest woman in England (after Queen Elizabeth) and the house was her ostentatious showing of wealth, particularly the windows as glass was still expensive. In the centuries since then her descendants, farmers, gardeners, builders, decorators, embroiderers and craftsmen of all kinds have contributed and made Hardwick their creation. We’d like you to explore and enjoy Hardwick and in the process discover the lives, loves and adventures of the creators of Hardwick. Notably is the third floor, originally the guest floor which, as the property was little used over the years, has remained virtually untouched and provides a great example of Elizabethan rooms.

This year take a closer look at the life of Duchess Evelyn, the ‘Last Lady of Hardwick’, who died 1960. Her newly restored bedroom completes the family rooms on the middle floor. You can discover more about the life of a duchess, her pioneering conservation work and the dramatic changes she made to the east view landscape, in the East Court Rose Garden.

This was a fascinating few hours as we arrived in time to hear a talk by one of the NT volunteers who obviously knew the history of the family inside out and back to front. In a little over 20 minutes he gave us a very concise history of the family, from humble origins to being Mistress of the Robes to the Queen, as well as a clear and interesting history of the house.

The house dates back to the 1500s and has a very medieval feel to it. This atmosphere is enhanced by the plaited rush matting/carpet which covers most of the floors in the Hall. Previously, dwellings of every kind were ‘carpeted’ with scatted rushes which were changed regularly. Bess decided that this style of flooring would be much more durable and attractive if the rushes were plaited into a large woven carpet. It resembles a very coarse rattan or coir matting, much like we would use today except for the fact the weave is much bolder, less refined.

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The scale of the rooms and the huge floor to ceiling windows of approximately four metres in the grand hall where Bess entertained important guests is the most memorable aspect of the Hall. The rooms are huge, designed to impress visitors and to create a sense of the importance of the family. The house was designed to be an ancestral seat for the family.

The house is also  noted for its impressive collection of tapestries, frescoes and paintings.

Echoing the scale of the house and its spaciousness is the approach to the house, as well as the spacious and gracious layout of the gardens.

This was a fabulous place to visit and we really could have spent a great deal more time here studying the paintings and tapestries, exploring the gardens or simply enjoying the atmosphere of this very impressive house.

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Some Golf

July 19

Killara GC has a reciprocal arrangement with Gog Magog GC just south of Cambridge, so an opportunity to play a different course was too appealing.

Members of Killara (Mike and Penny) were in Cambridge visiting their son and grandchildren so I arranged to play with them. Footnote: Mike and Penny visit each year and it is no surprise that while Mike was captain of Killara he made the arrangements for the reciprocity so he and Penny could play when visiting (grandchildren responsibilities allowing).

Great views over Cambridgeshire.  Just don’t go into the rough!

After not even holding a golf club for 3 ½ months I was pleasantly surprised how well I het the ball. Mind you the greens are really true so that helps. I recommend that any Killara members visiting the UK make a point of playing this course.

July 20

I am not sure if Ros was really all that keen, but she said she wanted to come with me to The Open. Not too far I thought, just across England to Liverpool (actually Southport) at The Royal Birkdale.

Leaving at 5:30 I thought we’d be there by 9:30 – but not to be: an accident before we had even driven around Cambridge plus rain and the usual heavy English traffic meant it was a little later. However, not really a problem as, with the long daylight days, the players all hit off the first, starting at 6.00am with the last group not hitting off until 4.00pm. So we had lots of golf to watch.

It took me a while to understand the layout of the course: it is a links course rolling over the sand dunes with most holes separate from any other and with heath in between. The greens are rolling greens with deep dangerous bunkers (if you saw Rory McIlroy hit a double bogie on the back nine because he found a fairway bunker on his drive you would know what I mean).  No wind either!!!

We were able to watch some of the Australians on the first green as they had been placed in groups near the middle of the field, Baddeley, Day, Scott, Leishman, Smith and Griffin.

 

We started in the stand behind the first green and then I went for a wander around the course to look at each hole. Ros stayed in the stand at the first green and watched while the approach shot of Rory McIlroy landed on the path to the side of the green to be immediately surrounded by the spectators. She is not sure what happened next, but Rory did end up dropping a ball prior to his next shot. Not an auspicious start, and the English fans sitting with Ros were heartbroken as he was their favourite.

After a wander we ended up in the stand above the 18th green watching the finishing puts. Ros became quite an expert on the hole: ‘they need to hit it deep as it stops short, but not too deep as it will roll off the back’!

The only issue we had was the climate: it did not get over 17 degrees all day and with a slight breeze it felt even cooler. And the English call this summer!

We spent the night in Blackpool: why anyone would want to go there we have no idea: it’s a run down, has-been of a town occupied by elderly English and young families pretending that a wet and windy 15 degrees is the right weather to wear shorts and tee shirts. There is an enormous fair ground there but we were unsure when it actually operated. Not the Thursday night we were there, despite the fact this is supposedly summer, nor was it open the next morning.

 

 

More Tourist: Cambridge & Lavenham

July 17

Leaving Goldie with Beer’s we caught the bus into Cambridge for a day of sightseeing around the colleges.

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One must, of course, go into King’s College Chapel and admire the gothic architecture and the size. Started by King Henry Vl, it took from 1446 until 1515 to be completed (a period which spanned the War of the Roses, while the stained glass windows were not completed until 1531, and its early Renaissance rood screen was erected in 1532–36. Work was carried on by Richard ll, Henry Vll and Henry Vlll!

We then explored St John’s College with its old (1511) section and the ‘new’ (19th-century neo-Gothic New Court) across the Cam with its matched symmetry building.

                                        St John’s First Court and New Court

In Cambridge, on a bright sunny day (yes they do occur) one must punt down the Cam. We cheated and went on a chauffeured punt with the punter providing commentary on the colleges as we drifted past.

Some time for mundane activities like visiting the Apple store to buy the missing adapter to allow us to plug into the internet in the cottage, going to the bank to pay for our Scottish tour in a few weeks and shopping for clothes the replace the worn out rags we have worn for 3 months.

Back to Beer to collect the car and, deciding that it was quite late, we walked across the road from the workshop and had dinner (bangers + mash / bucket of fish and chips – how English) and met an Australian couple touring in a camper.

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Dinner at the pub.

Following that a pleasant drive across country in a convertible car in the English twilight that lasts until 10pm.

July 18

We set off late (amazing how quickly we have forgotten how to get up at 6:30 and be on the road by 8am!) for a drive across to Lavenham, a town of leaning medieval buildings. It has over 300 preserved timber and plaster buildings, including the Guildhall on the main square.

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Apparently the town made its wealth in the 1500s due to the wool trade, which made many towns in Suffolk wealthy at the time. However, to be different, Lavenham’s fame was due to the dying and weaving of a particular blue cloth that was sought after across the continent. The merchants sourced the wool and then used local people to spin, dye and weave in their own houses and yards.

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The Guildhall

The combined effects of the Dutch moving into Colchester and producing a better cloth and the introduction of a severe tax to finance the war with France caused the town’s downturn, with the result that many merchants just left the town and abandoned their houses. With no need for the housing stock, the houses sat empty for centuries until their historic importance was noted and they were preserved.

While wandering the streets we came across Neil and Lesley: Neil was outside re liming the house and after we had talked for a while he invited us into the garden. As the house was right on the street one does not really think that there will be much of a garden behind, but we were wrong: about half an acre set out with trees and shrubs and summer houses and 200 year old fruit trees.

Neil and Lesley’s back garden hidden behind the house on the street

Pictures to remind us what it looked like.

Read the house name and the hand written sign!

Home for dinner

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Yes, they are blankets on the bench, it maybe summer but its only 16 degrees!

A day at the races and our first day being a tourist

July 15

We are staying a few miles from Newmarket, the centre of the racing industry.  On Thursday, when we arrived, we were held up in the race traffic (Ladies Day) and that gave us the thought to see what other races were on while we are nearby.  We lucked out, it’s the Newmarket July Carnival with Saturday being the main day.  So why not attend!

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No tickets, not to worry, drive into the car park and we were immediately spotted by a couple of ticket resellers… only a bit of a premium! Into the grandstands and we found the whole layout quite different.

For a start, the track is one long straight of about a mile with the barrier way down the other end to the stands. This meant that for most races we watched the start on the big screens and then turned towards the track as the horses were about a furlong out from the finish. For longer races (most were 6 to 7 furlongs, so a real sprint) the track went around a corner so the start was completely out of sight.

The other difference was that the parade ring and the winner’s enclosure were behind the stands, so we needed to leave the stands to see the horses’ parade before and after the finish.

We did not do much good, only picked a place getter in the last race of the day.

July 16

A day sightseeing. We drove to the nearby village of Clare and followed a walking trail around through the paddocks and along the creek.

 

Views along the walk.  And what does a traveller from China find in a garden!

We then hopped over to Long Melford to visit Melford Hall. Our Australian National Trust membership has reciprocity with both the English and Scottish NT so we try to head for these sights for stately home visits and our history hit.

Melford Hall is the ancestral seat of the Parker Baronets and was mostly constructed in the 16th century, incorporating parts of a medieval building held by the abbots of Bury St Edmunds, and had been in use since before 1065. The locals say that the abbots could walk the 15 miles from here to Bury St Edmund all on church land! No wonder there was the dissolution of the monasteries. Beatrix Potter was a cousin of the family and was a frequent visitor to the hall from the 1890s onwards with some of her drawings on display. In the bedroom she frequently used you can see the original Jemima Puddle-Duck!

We arrived back at the cottage in time to see the Wimbledon final…without it being the middle of the night!

That evening we went around the corner to Hawkedon, to the pub for dinner. Very old (aren’t they all) with an extremely long wine list plus an extremely long whisky list and an even longer gin list!

What! There’s more?

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So you thought that was the end of Goldie’s blog! Well, Ros and I are staying in Britain a little longer and as we like to record what we do (so we can remember 2 days later) we’ll keep updating. It will not be as regular and detailed, but if you like hearing about Goldie’s travels, follow on…..

July 13: The day after

No one told us what time to get to breakfast and what time we would be leaving. No one told us where we were going; we felt quite lost!

One of the points I made to everyone before we even left Australia was to ensure that they had plans for the day after, or else you’ll be left in the Dog House Inn carpark wondering what happened. We had plans. First up, breakfast at our own pace. A second cup of tea! Time for toast! Time even to have a chat to other adventurers who were also relaxing.

Then the exodus started:

 

Dutchess (Maja and Henk) back to the train to drive to Holland in time for Henk to share his birthday with his family.

Vulcan (Lindy and Ian) around the corner to a friend’s house to drop of half the contents of their car (souvenirs) before enjoying three days sailing on the Solent.

Dash (Loris and Ian) up north to friends for a few days walking.

Burgundy (Tony) to his London flat with his wife Maureen who joined him in Abingdon.

Shiraz (Kay and Mike) to Preston for the Australia v Britain MG Hill Climb completion.

Shamrock (Paula and Peter) back to Kimber House for a photo before going with Mike and kay to Preston as the support team.

And lucky Goldie, off to Suffolk for 10 days in a friend’s cottage while relaxing and planning the next little while.

We are very lucky to be lent The Walnut Tree in the village of Stansfield just south of Cambridge. A cute cottage on a country lane backing on to a farmer’s field planted (my guess) with parsnips.

Two bedrooms upstairs, a lounge and dining nook downstairs plus kitchen and bathroom. Just perfect for a rest. Thanks to Di in Sydney and Rod in England for this perfect retreat at the end of a long journey.

First job, unpacking Goldie. Boy was there a lot of ‘stuff’ in corners, bags and tucked away everywhere you could find. Down to the carpets and totally empty to check if there were any damp spots (yes, so some carpet drying as well). Lambs wool car seat covers off and washed (3 days to dry). Feel much better now!

Before and After. All that came out of Goldie!

Multiple loads of washing. After 3 months on the road all clothes needed a wash, no matter how well we had done them in the shower each night!

July 14

We did not quite goof off the next day. Goldie had developed a slippage in the gear box along the trip. Not a trip stopping issue, indeed more an issue of not stopping. So, while at Kimber House I asked for a mechanical recommendation ‘near Cambridge’ and was directed to ‘Beer of Houghton’ a business started in 1953 by the father of the current proprietor, Malcom, and now run by him and his wife Julie.

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If you know Sally and Stuart’s old workshop and multiply the size and quantity of ‘stuff’ (read spares, and maybe ‘needs one day’) by at least 6 and you have an idea of the shop.

Now the concept of ‘near’ is all relative. While Beer’s is 15 miles north west of Cambridge, The Walnut Tree is 25 miles south east, so overall it is a 40 mile trip across Cambridgeshire. Have we mentioned English traffic? 40 mile = 1 ½ hours driving. Sometimes on motorways, sometimes stopped on motorways, sometimes on A roads and many times through roundabouts. I am still uncomfortable doing 60 mph along what (to me anyway) seem to be country lanes. Accelerating out of a roundabout to 70 mph to then enter another roundabout in 1 mile’s time. And all along keeping up with traffic in front and having another car on the rear bumper.

So, we experienced complicated driving and found a very helpful, cheerful, knowledgeable person in Malcolm and we arranged to return on Monday for a service plus looking at the gearbox issue.

While there we visited the old mill on the river and walked along the old train tracks.

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Day 102: Calais to Abingdon

Is there a degree of anxiety about this last day? I would say so, as we had to be at the train, 5 minutes from the hotel, 1 hour and 25 minutes before boarding!

Goldie was in the lead and John specifically said, “So that we do not become separated, if you are asked if you want to board an earlier train, answer NO!”

Six out of seven cars got this correct. The computer expert in the group, faced with an automated check-in computer screen, somehow got it wrong, despite protestations to the effect that he was sure he had pushed the NO button. Oh, well, some of us got to do some duty free shopping, one of us got to hide out in the car park in England waiting for the rest to catch up!

The train is a very different experience as you drive into a carriage, get parked by an attendant, and then the doors between each carriage close for the duration of the trip. There is probably 5 minutes of daylight, where all you really see is the barbed wire fences protecting the tracks on the France side, before plunging into the darkness of the tunnel. Yes, the train carriages are lit!) You can choose to stay in the car or get out and walk around the carriage your car is in (yes, there is a loo) and socialise. The trip on the train takes approximately 45 minutes. Again, there is only about a five minute window of light at the English end.

Eventually we all arrived in England to be met by two MGs, a beautiful cream MGB roadster and a meticulous black rubber nose, with three members of the MGCC aboard. What a lovely welcome! We had intended to drive to Abingdon via England’s lovely country roads, however, after losing out hosts and the two cars at the tail end of the convoy we gave up and took to the motorways. Lunch in Abingdon was beckoning and we were not going to get there in convoy on back roads if we kept losing people!

We arrived in Abingdon to find a generous and warm welcome from the MGCC and the many members who had turned up to greet us. What a wonderful ‘family’ the MG fraternity around the world is. The question was asked, ‘Where is Dave Godwin?’, which was appropriate as Dave led the first MG ‘long drive’ group in 2010 across the Silk Road to Abingdon and then again the Cape to Cairo ‘long drive’, of which John and I were a part, which also ended in Abingdon. We were following in Dave’s footsteps and will always be grateful to him for getting us ‘hooked’ on long drives in our fabulous MGB, Goldie.

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That night many MGCC members joined us for a celebratory dinner. We were celebrating a fabulous achievement, the successful completion of a drive of 25,850 (approx) kilometres. There was, of course, some sadness also, as eight cars had set out and only seven had arrived. We all did feel the loss of Ginger and, of course, Dave and Pat. The ending was not quite so complete without them.

It was wonderful to have join us not only the MGCC members but also the Mayor of Abingdon, Jan, and her husband, Tom, as well as the designer of the MGB, Don Hayter. We felt very privileged to have all these people join us for our celebration.

John and Mike thanked all members for their contribution to the successful completion of the journey. Ours was not a professionally organised trip, rather all couples contributed. Mike, apart from being co-leader, organised, with Kay, the South East Asia leg from Bangkok to the China border. John, apart from being the initiator of the trip and co-leader, organised the 40 days we spent in China. Ian, with Loris, organised the four Stans, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. Dave organised the transporting of the cars as well as organising, with Pat, the Iran leg of the trip; Peter and Paula took over the organisation when we crossed into Turkey and Henk, apart from being head mechanic, organised, with Maja, the European dash, taking us to an interesting series of small and large cities. Tony organised visas for the whole group, and there are lots of stories to tell about this aspect of the trip, while Ian and Lindy organised the team finances from go to woe, and along the way took on a much bigger role than anyone imagined and made life very easy for the rest of the group. Ros was left to organise a trip logo, trip t-shirts, decals and signage for the cars, and the MAP!! Many in the group doubted the need for a map showing the route but all could be seen, during the trip, crouching beside the door with an interested onlooker, tracing the route of our fabulous trip along the fabled Silk Road.

And those fabulous and tough little cars which took us almost trouble free for all those kilometres? What can one say? You learn to be passionately indebted to their toughness, endurance, forgivingness and the fact that, because they are MGs, they bring you together with people, other enthusiasts, throughout the world.

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We had a great night in Abingdon celebrating the end of our trip. All couples, including Pat and Dave, contributed around ten photos to a presentation and all couples spoke to their own slides. Thus, all present were able to appreciate how each couple had responded to the trip and what, for them, were the highlights. Yes, there were a few double ups, but these were surprisingly few.

Perhaps of greatest importance was the fact that, for all on the trip, the interaction with the people we met along the way was the most important and significant aspect of the trip. Lack of a common language is no deterrent should people wish to communicate, and all of us did! For me, however, it was the joy Henk took in telling people about our most remarkable journey which will stay with me forever. Yes, inevitably we were all ready, with engines running, to pull out and hit the road once again but Henk, however, was not quite ready as he could be seen tracing, with his finger along the map on the car door, that fabulous journey across 17 counties while his enthralled audience looked on.

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Another trip of a life time!