Friday, 13 October 2017

A Motoring Holiday In The Scottish Highlands

I wrote the following for the forum of the Jaguar XK Enthusiasts Club – to which I belong. Then I thought - maybe some of the SkyeCalling blog audience would also find the post of interest. A member of the XKEC (not me…)! is organising a Highlands Tour for 2018. I hope to be able to join the tour for at least a day or two when they come here. It will be something of a novelty to see another XK on Skye!  

What is the point in having a car which will do nought to sixty just a few nanoseconds and has a top speed faster than Starship Enterprise, if you spend most of your time in a traffic jam being overtaken by cyclists and looking at the tailgate of a Ford Transit?

Yes – you need to take your Jaguar on holiday… The ever-increasing popularity of taking a touring holiday in the Scottish Highlands has prompted me to think of those of you who might be contemplating a trip ‘over the border’, and to offer a few words of experience from a Jaguar XK owner who actually LIVES here…

In the Scottish Highlands, while the minor roads are often single-track and severely pot-holed, the main roads are two-way, mostly well-surfaced, and, out of the peak tourist season, pretty-much traffic-free. (Peak season is June to September).

When driving in the Highlands, you need to be very aware of animals on the road. Sheep grazing with heads down on the roadside verge are unlikely to be a problem and can largely be ignored, but beware in spring when there are lambs about, or if there are sheep on both sides of the road – they may cross to be with their mates without warning. Cattle in the road are pigs… Urmm… by that I mean that cattle will stand still in the middle of the road and look blankly at you. Hooting your horn will have no effect on them whatsoever. If you are brave enough, you will need to get out of your car and apply a hefty whack to the rump of the nearest bovine. This may get things mooving in more ways than one. I’m sorry – there are very few car-washes in the Highlands… Then there’s the deer. We have lots of them in the Highlands. They sometimes gather close to roads, especially in winter when there is snow on the hills. Deer can move very fast when alarmed. Red deer are big – the size of a pony – so hitting one at 60mph can write off a car– so be VERY aware.

Then there’s the weather… It rains a lot here, so don’t come with balding tyres, fit new wiper blades prior to your trip, and pack a waterproof jacket for when you get out of your car. In winter – you may encounter snow. You will see snow on the hills much of the time from November to March. Snow can fall during the same period at road level as well, though the Council gritting trucks do a pretty good job of keeping the roads open. However, it is a bum-clenching experience to drive your precious wide-tyred Jaguar on 3-inch deep slush…

Having said that, there are also periods of time between October and May when the sun is shining, the roads are dry and deserted, and the scenery is sparkling. I can think of very few more rewarding experiences than that of unleashing your car on such roads. Of course, I am quite sure that no responsible Jaguar driver would ever exceed the national speed limit, which is 60mph here, the same as in England. However, there are many stretches of Highland roads that seriously tempt a little extra pressure on the right pedal. As far as I am aware, there are no fixed speed/safety cameras in the North West Highlands - though be sure - the local police regularly patrol using unmarked cars, and also employ mobile camera vans. It is up to you to drive responsibly and safely.

This is Puss in Glencoe - before she had her 'PS55' registration 

Where are the best routes? Well – once you get north of Perth or Crianlarich (depending on which way you come here) there are not that many roads to choose from. However - the A9 from Perth to Inverness is one to avoid, being busy with trucks and dotted with 50mph limits and average speed cameras. The A82 from Tyndrum through Glencoe is awesome – both the road and the scenery. The A887/A87 from Invermoriston to Skye is one of my personal favourites, second only to the A832/A890 from Garve to Skye. You wouldn’t regret a trip up the A835 from Tore (Inverness) to Ullapool either, and the Isle of Skye itself has some fine roads and even finer views. The scenery gets ever more spectacular the further north and west you go. Spending some time on Google streetview when planning your route will forewarn you of any stretches of single-track road that you may encounter.

When you visit – and by now, you should be convinced that you must – I do urge you to plan ahead. You will want to spend several days in the Highlands. In tourist season, there are so many overseas visitors here, you must book accommodation well in advance of your visit. Out of season, many accommodation providers close for winter, so you STILL need to book well in advance. At any time of year - don’t expect to find any eating places serving food after 9.00 pm. Also - keep your fuel tank topped up – garages are few are far between. Petrol on the Islands is subsidised by the Government to the tune of 5p per litre, but there’s no supermarket fuel here, so expect to pay more per litre than in most English towns. If you are a fan of super-unleaded – you may not find it available at every filling station.

If you are not already on your phone or computer booking your trip to Scotland, and have any questions that I may be able to help you with – please ask-away. I look forward to seeing photos of your trip in the forum…

Tuesday, 3 October 2017

Another Short Break

We've been away for another little break. A glance at the photos might tell you where...

Sue and I stayed in what I can only describe as one of the very best B&Bs I have ever experienced. . The guest rooms are spacious and nicely furnished. Breakfast was a feast, including home made bread and preserves, and even honey from the hives in the garden. The owners were just so helpful, providing us with guide books, leaflets and information about everything in which we mentioned an interest.

West Wing Room, Grange Farmhouse B&B
Ready for breakfast
The farmhouse stands just a mile from the centre of Dunfermline, so on day one, Sue and I were happy to leave Puss safely at the house and walk into town. Dunfermline was a surprising place to us. A huge and beautiful park - Pittencreiff - flanks one side of the town. The park has woodland, lawns, formal flower beds, herbaceous areas, a large glasshouse... there's plenty to explore. Also in Dunfermline are substantial remains of an abbey and royal palace. Just open this year is a fine new library, museum and gallery. The town was the birthplace of a child who became one of the world's richest men - Andrew Carnegie. Although living most of his life in America, he never forgot his roots and left a considerable sum of money in trust to the town. It would seem that his money is still being well-spent.

Sue in Pittencreiff Park
Pittencreiff House - home of  General John Forbes
Pittencreiff Park
Double-arch bridge - Pittencreiff Park 
Andrew Carnegie statue, Pittencreiff Park
Looking out of the park into Dunfermline
Dunfermline Abbey Church from the Carnegie Library
Inside Dunfermline Abbey nave
Ruins of the abbey refectory
I'm in what were the Abbey kitchens
Coffee break in Dunfermline Carnegie Library
Abbot House, Dunfermline, from the Carnegie Library

Day two, we walked to the local station and took a train ride over the Forth Bridge into Edinburgh. I was only in my 20s when I last visited our lovely capital city, and then only spent a day there. On this occasion, we made the most of the beautiful autumn weather to walk extensively around the city. I wanted to see for myself the Scottish Parliament Building - and found it to be slightly less dreadful to look at than it often looks on TV.

Title barely necessary - Edinburgh Castle
Back of the Scottish Parliament Building with wooden-barred windows..??
Scottish Parliament Building - front entrance
Scottish Parliament Building - an architectural masterpiece?....errmmm?
Nearby, we spotted a building which clearly housed a not-crowded cafe, so in we went for a lunchtime coffee, only to discover we were in the home of 'Dynamic Earth' . So after our coffee, we bought tickets to discover what Dynamic Earth was all about. I can really only say 'Wow!' We had a great time! We experienced the birth of the planet (including being in an earthquake), falling back in time, flying over the arctic (in a room that I swear actually tipped us on our sides), holograms, no end of interactive screens, a real iceberg, being sniffed by a 3D rhino, and a tropical storm. We laughed, stood with mouths gaping, clung onto each other, and emerged convinced that we had just had the best lunchtime coffee, ever.

By now, it was late afternoon, but we could see people making their way up the side of the nearby hill named Arthur's Seat. So off we went, for a lovely walk which gave us a wonderful birds eye view of the city.

Arthur's Seat from the grounds of the Scottish Parliament Building
Track up Arthur's Seat
View from Arthur's Seat -
Foreground, Dynamic Earth building.
Centre left - Scottish Parliament Building,
Right - Holyrood Palace.

We had planned to eat in Edinburgh before heading back to the B&B, but being Friday night, everywhere looked crowded, so we collapsed into the train, and found a lively and friendly pub in Dunfermline for dinner.

What a great short break!

Friday, 22 September 2017

Allotment Update / Dinner For One

Sue has gone on a girlie shopping expedition to Inverness today with one of her friends. This leaves me eating alone this evening. This is no problem, as we keep a few pies and other meaty things in the freezer for such occasions. For vegetables - all I had to do was wander into the allotment and gather what I fancied...

Tonight's veg - curly kale, runner beans, potato and carrot.
Take my word for it - the carrot is about 8 inches long...
All harvested and then cooked less than 30 minutes later 
The allotment has been spectacularly successful this year. OK - the brassicas suffered an almost total loss thanks to root fly, but the carrots are the best I have ever grown - not only big and straight, but full of flavour too. The potato crop is huge, we also have masses of onions, huge swede, some decent broad beans, and I am even picking our own runner beans - for only the second time since working the allotment.

Footnote: Some eagle-eyed reader may have noticed that the slightly larger potato in my photograph looks a bit the worse for wear... Sure enough, when I cut it, I found it to be partially rotten, so that one has been recycled via the compost heap. But we still have plenty of good ones!

Tuesday, 5 September 2017

Wedding Aniversary Celebration

Sue and I were married on the 2nd September 2001, so the other day was our 16th anniversary. This may not be a particularly significant number, but we still like to have a little celebration. We are not really in to meals in fancy restaurants, and eating out in a nearby pub didn't seem special enough. So Sue suggested we had an afternoon tea in a decent hotel.

We chose to go to Kinloch Lodge, which is one of the most noteworthy hotels on Skye, though we had not been there before. Being an hour or so to the hotel from Roskhill, getting there gave me the opportunity to give Puss an outing - though sadly the weather was 'Skye-normal', so Puss now needs a wash...

The tea was lovely, with the best-tasting scones I have ever had. The little cakes were pretty special too, and the lounge of the hotel provided a warm and comfortable place to spend a drizzly afternoon. Our friendly waitress even offered to box-up the items we didn't manage to eat at the time, so we could have a tea re-run after we arrived back home!

So, thanks to Sue for the afternoon tea suggestion, and Happy Anniversary to us both!

Puss at Kinloch Lodge
Homeward bound