A day in the Highlands

Just down from the Castle was the pick up point for my Highlands Tour specifically Day Tour number 4, which promised “lochs, mountains and castles”. The snow on the mountains was a bonus, if snow in Spring is your thing. 

At  8:30 am a never ending line of white Timberbush coaches, more than 25, waited for passengers. I would hate to be going on a busy day I said tongue in cheek. It’s our busiest weekend boasted the driver, being Easter. And so it was. 
In a grey depressing housing estate on the outskirts of Edinburgh the driver explained that Sean Connery grew up. It was proposed that a museum be established with memorabilia of his James Bond roles. It lasted less than a week as the supposedly secure display case of all Connery’s toppees was smashed and torched whilst a statue of a semi naked Pussy Galore, was defaced beyond recognition; at least the coach driver thought that was the case. Bover Boys he sighed, are always beavering away.
We passed Stirling Castle besieged by Braveheart, in real life of course Mel Gibson as pointed out again by our knowledgeable driver and as we all know our Mel is no Bruce!
Our first stop was the Doune Castle, used in the filming of “Monty Python and the Holy Grail “. The souvenir shop sells pairs of half coconut shells and as well beautifully dressed dolls of the Knights of the Round Table. The included pamphlet actively encourages children to rip the limbs off one at a time.
It is a truth universally acknowledged that a tourist bus of considerable load must be in need of a whiff of commercialism. (Apologies to Jane Austin).
Lunch time. We are channelled through cashmere at  the village of Tyndrum along it seems with the whole population of Edinburgh and what must surely have been the annual pilgrimage of the Glasgow Bikies. If only they made leather in a tarton check. 
Cars snaked bumper to bumper on narrow, shoulder-less roads for miles. Again I enquired of the driver, surrounded by a sea of cars,buses and motor bikes at the “Macintosh Tarton & Take Away” car park, why and where all these Scotsmen were headed. Well he explained it is Saturday, sunny and so they are “going for a drive”! 
The experience did two things: it reminded me of the congestion returning home from the  Fleureau Peninsula Monday afternoon on a long weekend, magnified twice over and secondly that I would never mount a bicycle in the Highlands of Scotland.
The highlight for me was the village of Inverarery on the shores of Loch Fyne. The first option was the visit to Inverarery Castle:  entry 10 quid. I chose option 2,  exploring the village for nothing. By now the sun was shining and the drive through the snow capped mountains and Lochs, was memorable. Our final stop was on the shores of Loch Lomond which caused me to hum the eponymous tune all the way home. I shall do a search for sheet music there may well be a version for Recorder and Bagpipes.

Doune Castle as appears in Monty Python


you did not believe me. it is snow !


now I know what Wordsworth meant


Loch Fyne





several pictures of the village of Inverarery on Loch Fyne


The pass on the Arrochar Alps


Loch Lomond


we return to Edinburgh at dusk



The day I left Quent and Jan was the best day weather wise. The sun shone and the wind was but a light breeze, with bite! The train system is privatised and the North East Service that I boarded was run by Virgin Rail. The train, which had commenced its’ journey in London, arrived about 10 minutes late. It appeared to be disconcertingly full as it pulled into the station. Thankfully the majority alighted, so that for the final leg to Edinburgh there were quite a few empty seats. I sat on the right as it was on this side that the ocean was visible and the train followed the coast for a while, although not exactly hugging it. 

The usual refreshment trolley appeared with woeful black coffee and those packets of ‘coffee whitener’. The label boasts that they contain NO milk products and the resultant outcome of combining coffee and whitener, is the dramatic  appearance on the surface of the drink of undissolved white blobs. These bear a remarkable similarity to the consequences of adding out-of-date milk to one’s coffee, nausea inducing congealed milk protein floats on the surface. Both taste the same!
Through “Bookings.com” I made a reservation at The George Hotel, situated in the centre of the city and close to all the tourist venues. It is rather upmarket. The staff are all dressed in kilts! The men at least. However to a man, not one of them appeared to be Scottish. After several encounters and polite questioning, I discovered, that the vast majority were from Portugal, Italy or Spain! By now I was expecting to be accosted by Basil Fawlty. In Australia such overseas workers are invariably students or on a working hoilday. In the UK I rather think it reflects the poor economic environment in Europe, which entices them to of all places, cold and bleak Scotland, where they are prepared to wear a kilt for cash! 
There is additional indirect evidence that Britain appears to be in a reasonable state of recovery as in Edinburgh at least, many shops have signs advertising vacancies for waiters and shop assistants.
Today is Good Friday and to my surprise the shops are all trading. It is not good weather wise, Marcus the kilted concierge from Cordoba, infoms me that there will be rain till 12 noon then it will be sunny. This is the outlook for each of the next 4 days. So I retire to my room, to blog and practice the Recorder, drinking cups of congealed coffee until the afternoon.
I am walking the Royal Mile it is now 12 noon and Marcus’ predicted sun is nowhere to be seen. Should I confront him on my return I am sure he will respond: “I know nuthing”! It is dismal so I head to a local Cafe for an acceptable coffee.
One would not have the remotest idea that today is Good Friday, the Royal Mile as I write makes Rundle Mall on a Friday night look deserted. My God… The Postman has just delivered the mail! Remember it’s Good Friday! 
I decided that the best option faced with cold pelting rain was to head to the Scottish National Museum, along with 99 thousand others. It is worth the visit and free. For the first time I am aware of presumabley overseas tourists, not so much as from Japan, but rather from the Indian Subcontinent. Now whilst an Indian man looks quite fetching in a dohti, try as I might I can’t visualise him in a kilt. I walked the Royal Mile, climbed all over the Castle then headed back to the hotel. 
There was no rain but it was nevertless still bracing and most people were sensibly rugged up in heavy overcoats, scarves and gloves. To my amazement a considerable number of young Scotsmen, paraded around in shirts and not much else. Short sleeved whats more.
My iPhone has a recently discovered app that tells me how far I have walked and how high I have climbed each day! Well today the stats were as follows:
25736 steps
29 floors (stairs) for a total of
16.66 km on the day.
I had a glass of wine at dinner as I felt rather smug. Tomorrow I am signed up for a bus trip to the Highlands visiting several castles. I skipped the optional Whisky Distillery tour.

The main hall of the National Museum



Three photographs of the Castle.

St Gilles cathedral



I have stayed for the last 4 days with my cousin, Quentin and his wife Janet. They live in a stone semidetached cottage in the village of Corbridge about 18 miles from Newcastle. Torn between their old Imperial heritage and the modern metric system, the British have been half hearted in their conversions. There are Pounds sterling with 100 pence to the new Pound yet it is bloody cold at 2 degrees centrigrade as we speed along at 60 miles an hour to the petrol station to buy a few gallons of petrol. I live in fear that Tony Abbott might hear about this confusing mishmash of measurments.

I am staying at Peartree House B&B and for at least 2 nights I have been the only guest. On the other ocasions two younger men stayed here to play golf at a famous local course. The fact that the weather changed dramtically and rapidly from sun to snow, several times in a day, all the time with fierce biting winds, more then enough to freeze one’s balls, appeared to them to be an adventure.
Being the sole guest means that I can blow my Recorder with gay abandon.
My shorts remain at the bottom of my backpack! Quentin has lent me a very thick coat for the duration. I have not even contemplated mounting the hybrid bike that a local retired policeman had lent to Quentin, assuming that I was going to meander around the English countryside and traverse Hadrians wall. Not bloody likely. We did walks to some impressive Roman ruins near to Corbridge.
We explored the Villages of Hexham and its’ Abbey and Durham and its’ cathedral. Durham is a university town as is Cambridge and Oxford. The scene of the Cathedral bulit on the heights above the River is the subject of a famous painting by Turner.
Janet is a great cook and we have had some wonderful  home cooking as well as one night out at the local pub with a retired couple, who are good friends. Bob, in retirement has taken up cycling. They are planning to tour Australia  and spend a month in Adelaide in January. I have promised them a bike and rides.
Today I leave for Edinburgh, not without a degree  of apprehension as it 100 miles closer to the Artic Circle.

Part of the Durham Cathedral and square


another shot of the Cathedral


the Cathedral and the scene painted by Turner

No derogatory remarks about food pictures and the iPhone! Its breakfast at The PearTree. Eggs from the owners chooks!