Friday, 26 August 2016

BACK IN BLIGHTY- Cornwall and Cheltenham and around

After a painful (for Rich) stay in Cambridge, and a pending wait to see doctors there, we decided on a trip to see some old friends living in Cornwall, who, luckily for us just happened to both be osteopaths! The bus trip was long, and as we arrived in Cornwall the roads became narrow and winding, the farmland ever greener, signs for cream teas and pasties appeared, as did cutely named villages such as Doddycress, Merrymont and Lastwistel. We were happy to arrive and catch up on eight years worth of news with our friends and meet their two little girls who had been born and grown up during the previous eight years.While Lloyd helpfully treated Richard for his problem, Jo and I managed a few lovely, hot and sweaty walks along the stunning North Cornwall coastline with it's vivid blues and greens, around various quaint seaside villages and a bike ride along the Camel Trail- a 18 mile cycle path along the Camel River between Wenfordbridge to Padstow.

Gorgeous walk on a gorgeous day, Cornwall

Walking into the busy Polzeath beach, Cornwall

Stone steps, walk along Cornish coast

We all enjoyed a typical British day out at the packed beach at Daymer, with Sal being most amused at the little fort-like windbreaks that were set up everywhere staking the sunbathers domain, but loving the fantastic atmosphere of everyone appreciating the hot weather so much, swimming and surfing in the FREEZING sea, and absolutely enjoying their day- we love Britain on days like these.

Brits at the beach, Daymer Beach

Daymer Beach, Cornwall

It really felt like Summer had properly arrived, with 30 degree days, al fresco dinners and BBQs, lying outside in the garden in the warmth, and the girls enjoying a paddling pool and slip and slide in the backyard. Wadebridge and the surrounds were full of festivals and fairs and tourists- especially along the Camel Trail during the day. We loved visiting the adorable harbour villages of Bosworth, and Port Issac (where Doc Martin was filmed), with their slate cottages, where even the many tourists couldn't detract from the prettiness.

Bosworth quaint little cottage

Wonky cafe, Bosworth, Cornwall

Beautiful village wall, Cornwall

Walking into Port Issac, Cornwall

Back alleyway of Port Issac, Cornwall

The cute harbour town of Bosworth, Cornwall

A rainy day- the only one, was spent in "the big city" of Truro, where we found the range of strong Cornish accents very funny and the charity shops posh. We discovered "Tre" means "place of"- as in Tredizzick and Trebekerick.

Back street of Truro

Truro cathedral

As Rich's body slowly made improvements week by week, he felt up to another visit- this time to Cheltenham to catch up with a long time friend Bookey. The spa town of Cheltenham has long been a popular holiday health spot since the 1700s, when George III's visit to the Pumphouse in the lovely Pitville Park set the trend of "taking the waters". The town's regency architecture was impressive, but we didn't do much sightseeing, preferring to hangout with the lovely group of people who were Bookey's friends- walking up Crickly Hill (and admiring the famous Cotswold landscape with it's patchwork quilt of small farms on rolling hills), chatting and having BBQs in the glorious weather. We tried our first balti, a delicious curry with an interesting history- some believe it was first invented in Birmingham! Other delights on offer were the many local ales Rich and Bookey enjoyed sampling, homemade nettle beer, and blackberry and apple crumble, made from fruit picked at out friend's amazing pyrapod.

Feeling a bit better!

Soft and rolling Cotswolds countryside

Our mate's uniquely designed "pyrapod"

As the sun and warmth continued, we began to wonder why the Brits flee the summer here for other parts of Europe. The beautiful weather was just perfect (well, in South-east England, anyway)- most days between 20 and 27 degrees, soft breezes and dry. If February was the time for daffodils, and April for tulips, July and August undoubtedly belonged to the variety of roses in most gardens, and the sweet smell on the air. The local fruit on offer became plentiful, with plums, redcurrants, blackberries, green gauges and gooseberries joining the already bountiful displays in supermarkets and fruit stalls. We were lucky enough to find some sloes growing- a dry fruit from the blackthorn tree and a tiny variety of plum- it was a good excuse to buy some gin in order to make sloe gin for Sal to try! Bountiful cherry plums and blackberries were also gathered from the hedgerows- amazingly just growing there for the taking!

Roses galore, Cambridge

More flower filled gardens, Cambridge

Little flower pot man

Crumble with freshly picked blackberries....yum!

A morning's punting and an evening participating in a pub quiz completed the Cambridge experience- a wonderful time with family, complete with ginger beer, local ales and a picnic by the Mill pond on the River Cam, and a few drinks at a local pub, respectively.

Enjoying a Pimms in the backyard

Punting on the River Cam, Cambridge

Keeping cool on the Cam

Up the Amazon (or the River Cam!)

Tree lined avenue, Jesus Green, Cambridge

Other days out included a day hitting the charity shops in the historic market town of St Ives, and yet another impressive cathedral in the big city of Peterborough- we were getting a bit cathedraled-out by this point! We compared the absolutely cracking day with the windy freezing one when we visited in February. A long day was spent strolling along the Thames in London, in a mini version of the long distance path we'd hoped to follow all the way from London to Oxford. The big sights of the London Eye, Southbank, Tower Bridge (which Sal had always thought was London Bridge!), Westminster Abbey, the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben kept us busy looking from the outside- London is expensive, and it was way too lovely a day to spend inside! The holiday crowds were out in force, and we loved the people watching and busy atmosphere, but were happy to be back, exhausted, to Cambridge that evening. Rich was happy to be in a lot less pain than before, and be able to walk more freely.

Tower Bridge (or is it London?!)

Tower of London

An "oyster" ice cream

Big Ben as seen from the Thames, London

Westminster Abbey, London

Looking to the town square, Peterborough
Rich's improving health meant we were able to travel further afield. Having enjoyed a beautiful summer in England, we felt we needed a bit of excitement and chose one of the furthest away and most exotic of Europe's countries- Bulgaria.

Monday, 22 August 2016

THE WEE BOTHYS- Aberdeenshire, North and West Scotland

After so many towns and cities recently, we were both dying to get out to the wilderness of the Scottish Highlands, and be free from bookings, hotels, public transport, traffic, internet and people for a while.

We noticed Megabus had a promotion on their new sleeper bus between London and Aberdeen, so in the spirit of trying something new, we decided to give it a go. It certainly wasn’t the most comfortable night, with the lower bunks we had chosen being a bit restrictive, but we agreed for the price it had been worth a shot. The one hour trip from Aberdeen bus station to the village of Strichen in Aberdeenshire (where Richard’s daughter, Kim lives) was gently scenic with rolling green hills, farmland with new lambs and calves, and splashes of yellow from the rapeseed fields, gorse and broom. We weren’t so keen on the grim and dark granite buildings in all the towns in this area, but the absolutely brilliant warm and sunny weather somehow softened the severity of them.

We spent a lovely couple of days around Strichen with the unexpectedly great weather continuing (as it did for our next two weeks!). Highlights included :
Warming up for further walking adventures, with a long walk along a disused railway line from Fraserburgh, complete with old platforms, wild gooseberries, raspberries, apples, fuchsias, pansies and roses, scotch pines, birds fluttering and twittering in the hedgerows, and the coconut like smell of the flowering gorse sweet on the breeze.
A visit to the wonderful old farm house and garden of a relative, and the spectacle of a bluebell grove in full flower, along with rhododendrons, beech and elms.
A drive to visit the Bullers of Buchan, a coastal area with cliffs housing thousands of marine birds, including guillemots, cormorants, gulls and the first glimpse of a puffin, and Slaines Castle, an abandoned and atmospheric ruin rumoured to have inspired Bram Stoker’s Dracula, sitting unprotected and unloved by the dramatic coast line.
The walk around the somewhat rundown town and port of Peterhead, a once thriving fishing harbour, now with an air of neglect and poverty.
Catching up with many years worth of news, and reminiscing with some old memories.

Glorious sunshine through the tree tops, Strichen, Scotland

Bluebell grove in flower, Strichen, Scotland

Beautiful garden with bluebells, Strichen, Scotland
Along the cliffs, Bullers of Buchan, Aberdeenshire, Scotland

So happy to see a puffin! Bullers of Buchan, Aberdeenshire, Scotland

Wildflowers, Aberdeenshire, Scotland

Start of Fraserbugh walk, Aberdeenshire, Scotland

We were surprised to hear about the local language called Doric, which is common in Aberdeenshire, and includes phrases such as “fit like min” (How are you?), “abdy” (everybody), “loon” (boy) and “bap” (roll).

The adventure started when we left the east of Scotland to hitch hike to the north. We had a map and a vague route planned, but when we reached Lairg, a village we thought might take us a couple of days to get to in four hours, we thought we’d better slow down a bit! Taking advantage of the light evenings (the sun never really goes down in summer in Scotland, it just gets a bit darker between about 11pm and 3am), we walked and waited a bit longer for a lift at the beginning of the tiny quiet road to Tongue, but there was too little traffic (as in none!). We’d seen a sign for a bird hide nearby, so after a walk in to Loch Shin, we found the small wooden building, chatted with the last twitchers of the evening and settled in for the night.

Spent a comfortable night in a bird hide, Lairg, Scotland

The scenery up to the north coast continued to become more beautiful, with many stone walls, lochs and hill sides with interesting breeds of sheep, and as we turned west, the spectacular highland scenery began with bigger, bare mountains, and not so many trees . It was in Tongue we leant about the “North Coast 500”- the coastal road that winds its way from Inverness and around to Ullapool, and has recently been promoted by the Highland Council as one of the most scenic drives in the world. Although this road has always been there, because of this clever marketing, it has now become incredibly popular for caravans, huge motorhomes, motorbikes, push bikes and classic car fanatics. It means the road is much busier, and the character has changed a lot. The woman in the tourist information in Ullapool told us how busy the area was as a consequence- even at the very beginning of the season tourists were arriving and finding everywhere in town fully booked.

The gorgeous road between Lairg and Tongue, Scotland

Leaving our bags after a chat with delightful local artist Mark Edwards, we spent the afternoon walking around in the glorious sunshine, exploring the castle and the stunning views, and enjoying a drink at the pub. 

Enjoying the heat! Tongue, Scotland

Tongue junction, Scotland

That night we encountered the first of the dreaded midges. We’d hoped we would be too early for the horrible little flying, bitey bugs, but because of the warm weather the previous few weeks, they were out in early force. We managed to get out tent up and down again in the morning with minimal damage to our skins, but Sal discovered an unfortunate allergy to the bites, and had to take antihistamines for the rest of the trip to balance the swelling and itching. The supposed repellent product Skin So Soft that someone gave us, caused a blistery rash over Sal’s face, and was actually worse than the bites in the end!

We were excited to embark on the next part of the trip, and visit Sal’s first bothy. A bothy is a small cottage, usually on a large estate, and once used for stalking, sheparding or fishing. The Mountain Bothies Association (which Rich belonged to in the 1970’s) has had permission from some land owners over the years to turn some of these old decrepit buildings into shelters for walkers. Because of their original purpose many of the converted bothies are in remote and wild places. And best of all, they’re free!

In Scotland, there is a law that allows hill walkers to pretty much have access to any wild land, and the cooperation involved between landowners and hill walkers is refreshing- it’s mutually beneficial for them both. 

The first one we visited was Strabeg- a relatively short, but gorgeous walk up the glen from the main road (the turn off was in the middle of nowhere), and when we arrived we found it empty and tidy. We set up our beds in a room upstairs, and rested on the grass outside in the warm.

Walking to Strabeg bothy, Scotland

Stunning location of Strabeg bothy

The bothy had  three big rooms, and a sitting room with a fire, and after collecting some firewood, and having a bit of a wash in the picturesque stream, we enjoyed chatting with a couple of other guests who arrived later in the day (mostly doing long distance walks), cooked some dinner on the fire, and slept soundly.

Collecting firewood, Strabeg, Scotland

A well need wash, Strabeg, Scotland

Relaxing in the bothy, Strabeg, Scotland
Strabeg bothy, Scotland

The bothy had a stunning setting, and when all the others had left, for the next two days we had the whole area to ourselves to walk and admire different views -from under the boggy and moody crags to the top of the smooth barren hills. There wasn’t a great deal of plant life on show here (apart from the small area of birch woods on the crags), mainly heather, the occasional windblown juniper, tiny tough wildflowers in cracks and rocks with psychedelic coloured moss. It was fun walking up and down the hill collecting lots of water from the stream to fill bottles and buckets, and collecting more firewood- really loved it. The glen held many sheep, and we found ticks a bit of a problem, with about six between us.

Making a cairn, Strabeg, Scotland

Lovely views from the bothy, Strabeg, Scotland

Washing area, Strabeg, Scotland

Cute bothy building, Strabeg, Scotland

View of the bothy from a nearby hill, Strabeg, Scotland

Rich was quiet shocked at how much the bothy system has changed. Having visited and worked on dozens of bothies in the past, in his day the existence and locations were all a bit secretive. But now, with the internet, new long distance walks, and several TV programs about the bothies, there are many more visitors- one couple even had a smart phone complete with Bothy App!! Rich was not amused!

Thinking about the old days, Strabeg, Scotland

Once we packed up and found our way back to the main road (Rich proved his talent for finding the way where there were no paths!), we had a long wait till the next lift. We found ourselves amusing ourselves by jumping around doing exercises, high kicks and ballet (well, Sal did......). The weather stayed warm, if not always sunny, and we were happy to wait, or sometimes, just start walking until a car came. 

On arrival in Durness, a place that should have been charming and beautiful, we were immediately put off by the HUGE numbers of enormous caravan and motorhomes, tour buses, B and Bs and tourists. Even the white sand beaches and the first of the white cottages typical of the west coast  we had seen, couldn’t keep us in town, and we got a lift through glorious mountain scenery to Scourie, on the west coast, where the landscape seemed even greener.

Rich had remembered a great little pub there from years ago, but when arrived, we could only find a hugely posh and expensive hotel aimed at the “500ers”. We felt a little down because of the tourism, and being tired, but we convinced each to keep walking to a beautiful coastal area out of town, where we found a spectacular camping spot on the cliffs overlooking ocean and islands. We were extremely exhausted from all the walking over the past few days, and after a picnic looking out at seals, the midges came out in the early evening, and we decided that was a very good time to retire and sleep in our lovely warm little tent. We talked a bit about perhaps moving down to England to walk to avoid the horrible midges.

A Highland coo, Scourie, Scotland

Looking for a campsite, Scourie, Scotland

Luckily we woke to bright sun and strong wind (midge removing weather), and headed to our second, very different, bothy at Kylestrome/Glen Dhu. The path in was long (for us), but well maintained and used by the wealthy estate. If it was possible to enjoy a walk more than Strathbeg, this was it. We saw the first purple flowers on the heather here, fox gloves and many other wildflowers.
We were quite exhausted on arrival, but the grand beauty of the loch and the walk up the glen, totally revived us and we were so happy. After not being able to lift her backpack off the bed in Cambridge, to carrying it for 10 miles or more by the end of the month, Sal felt quite proud of herself!

Long walk into Glen Dhu bothy, Scotland

Nearly there, Glen Dhu bothy, Scotland

Again, this bothy was empty when we arrived, so we tidied up a bit and made a little home there for a few days. This bothy had very little firewood nearby, so we scoured the loch side and brought a big bag back, so we could make a cup of tea and enjoy a small fire at night. We took a rest day, and although not sunny, we really needed the break from walking or carrying our packs. A few walkers came through (all doing the same Fort William to Cape Wrath trek), including the 80+ year old hill running Suzie, posh and quiet Nik with his 5.50 pound chicken korma in a bag, and a couple of mad retired middle aged cyclists, ticking off highland spots every weekend, and we enjoyed the brief company. The weather turned a bit cooler, with rain and gale force winds nearly blowing the bothy roof off on our last night
To be continued..........................

Rustic charm, Glen Dhu bothy, Scotland

Our room for a few days, Glen Dhu bothy, Scotland

What a location! Glen Dhu bothy, Scotland

Watching the weather, Glen Dhu bothy, Scotland

Appreciating the warmth, Glen Dhu bothy, Scotland