Helpx Number 8….. .

Our lazy days trundling through Brittany came to an end a couple of weeks ago as we were booked in for our 8th Helpx in the Poitou-Charente region of France.  This was a return visit to a Ralph and Sue who have 10-12 acres of land, a horse, two donkeys and two pigs to look after as well as running a small kennels and cattery.  We last visited over two years ago and we were looking forward to going back to a familiar area and getting stuck in to a bit of physical work after an idle couple of weeks.  The pounds had been piling on and we were in need of shifting them. Sue had also booked Tim in to play at two bars during our two week stay which he was also really looking forward to.

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A gig for Tim in a bar at Finioux with an equal mix of French and English customers.

After getting acquainted once again with our hosts and what was expected of us we set to work.  The main areas of work they needed help with were clearing some areas of two of the fields which have become overgrown with bramble and bracken, moving about a thousand roof tiles to another property a few miles away and general tidying up in the garden behind the house. They’d also had a number of trees felled a while ago which needed cutting up into smaller manageable chunks to be used for firewood.  The only problem was that they were all buried under overgrown bracken which needed to be cleared first before we could get to them.

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Clearing an area of one of the fields accompanied by the donkeys Cafe and Chocolat.

We worked our way through the roof tiles in the mornings and cleared a bit of land in the fields for an hour or two in the afternoon.  The weather couldn’t have been better with clear sunny skies and temperatures in the low twenties.

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Unfortunately the little tractor is not man enough for the bracken.

By the fourth day the tiles had all been moved so we made a start on the felled trees.  Things were going reasonably well with Tim and I using the petrol hedge trimmer to cut the bracken and raking it all out of the way of the trees whilst Ralph used the chainsaw to cut up the wood.   So far so good.  But then the pig’s got a bit too close for comfort.

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Nosey pigs.

We met the pigs on our last visit when they were but tiny wee things.  They were bought not to be eaten but to act as eco friendly lawnmowers for the bracken that was getting out of hand on the land.  Their job would be to trample the bracken, eat the young fronds and plough up the land making it difficult for the bracken to flourish.  Unfortunately it seems that the pigs have trampled, rotovated, ploughed and eaten everything else but the bracken so they haven’t really fulfilled their job.

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The pigs on our frst visit over two years ago.

Once they got bigger and outgrew their small enclosure they were given free access to two very large fields.  The two very large fields we happened to be working in.  Oh, they have had a whale of a time making it their own.  Numerous pig pits and dens have appeared where they like to sleep and the ground has been trampled and turned over by their two snouts   They are friendly beasts and being the nosey creatures that they are couldn’t help but stick their snouts into what was going on.

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They’re a bit bigger now.

By the fourth day of us clearing various areas they seemed a bit put out that: a) they’d been woken up early by the buzzing of a chainsaw and a hedge trimmer and b) that people were muscling in on their space.  I mean it’s not like they only have a small area to call their own as they are free to roam across ten acres of land and with all that space you’d think they’d be a bit more charitable with letting us work in a small area for couple of hours or so to cut down some bracken and chop up and clear a few logs but no they were having none of it.  The pig’s said ‘NON’ with a capital ‘N’ and believe me it’s a bit disconcerting when a 200kg mardy pig comes up behind you whilst you’re trying to work with power tools.  It was an accident waiting to happen so in the end the pigs stopped play.  That particular job will have to wait for another day when they are in a more cooperative mood.  Like when they are in the freezer.  Alas, after two and a half years of a charmed life they have now become a liability.  After a recent spate of escapes by them the necessary decision has been made that they have to go and it’s going to be a one way trip.  They are, in the next couple of weeks, destined for the freezer.

P1130659.JPGSo with the field work put on hold until after the pigs have departed we spent a few days instead tackling the overgrown bramble in two areas of the garden at the back of the house.

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Gig number two at a fish and chip night in another village.
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A little taste of home!

Working outside clearing land (hard work though it is) under sunny skies is one of the things we have most enjoyed about our new life but it does come with a caveat.  We wouldn’t want to have the responsibility of owning and caring for any land ourselves.  Looking after land takes a lot of work and it’s not for the faint hearted.  There is always something to do and it just keeps on growing (why not state the obvious Jane).  Returning here after more than a two year gap just reinforced that for us.  Like all these things we like the idea of living something like the ‘Good Life’ but the reality is a different story.

After a couple of weeks of clearing land we are more than happy to down tools and say ‘Au revoir’ to it all.

À tout à l’heure!

Bimbling in Brittany…. .

On the road again………. .  Whenever we have stayed put for more than a couple of weeks we always spend the first few days back on the road singing the first line of that Willie Nelson song ‘On the road again’.  We only sing the first line because that is the only line we know.  No matter, it makes us smile and keeps us happy.  And we are very happy to be back in the saddle as it were haphazardly making our way through Brittany.  In fact, Tim has been grinning inanely for the best part of the last week.  Even more so as the weather has improved day by day.

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The boules have been broken out after a very long time in hiding.

We’ve had no particular plan other than to head in a more or less southerly direction as we have a couple of weeks of Helpxing booked in to start this weekend near Niort which is south east of Nantes.

It’s been a bit of a reminiscing tour as over twenty five years ago we spent three weeks cycle touring around the coast of Brittany from Roscoff to Concarneau and back taking in the Finistère coast to the west.  All we can really remember about it was after forty eight hours of continual rain in the second week and with everything soaking wet we caved in and hired a caravan for a week’s respite to dry out.  We really aren’t cut out for hardship.  Tootling about in the van this time it’s been a much more sedate and laid back affair.

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Ah, happy days on a cycle tour of Brittany circa 1992.  Do you remember those towels Mum?!  We still used them for drying the dogs off right upuntil 2013!

I have to confess the bikes haven’t seen the light of day for quite some time.  When we were working at the campsite in Cornwall we’d started with good intentions to use the bikes for all our trips out including the weekly shop.  Yeah right, well that lasted for the first two weeks before we succumbed to going shopping in the van.  Unfortunately, an eight mile round trip to Lidl on the bike after a week’s work lost its appeal pretty quickly and we haven’t quite got the cycling mojo back again yet.  So it’s been a week of beach walking.

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Beaches and estuaries galore in Brittany.

I’d forgotten how incredible the beaches are in Brittany.  Long ribbons of fine white sand broken up by estuaries and rocky headlands.  They are perfect for bracing walks when the tide is out.  You are spoilt for choice for aires and campsites along the coast and we have enjoyed parking up behind windswept beaches and being able to roll out of the van in the morning for a brisk walk before breakfast.

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The perfect spot for an overnight stop – the little white dot in the middle above the sand is Ollie, our van.

One place we did remember from our cycling holiday was Concarneau with its 14th Century walled town built on an island in the harbour and accessed by a bridge.  Alas, it’s sold itself out completely to tourism now with the compact interior lined with tourist shops and restaurants.  It’s still pleasant to explore and enjoy the views from the ramparts though.

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The ramparts of Concarneau.

The town is also still a big fishing port with huge fish sorting sheds lining the harbour which we passed when walking in from the aire on the outskirts of the town.

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The walk from the aire into to Concarneau.

Moving further south we pitched up for a night on an aire just north of Quiberon.  This spit of land was once an island and the West side of it is known as the Côte Sauvage although it didn’t look particularly sauvage when we were there as the sun was beaming with just a light breeze ruffling the grass.  It’s a busy stretch of coast line and appears to be very popular.  We walked along the coast into Quiberon itself and spent a very pleasant hour basking in the sun out of the wind sitting on the beach eating our picnic watching the sailing boats ply to and fro.

Lazy days indeed.  Tim can’t believe his luck.  Normally he lives in fear of my plans for him.  I’ve let him off the hook this week and he has been enjoying it to the fullest but deep down he knows it won’t last!

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You know it won’t last Tim!

À la prochaine!

On the road again…. .

So.  Bonjour à tous et à toute.  We are back on the road.  After over five months in the UK we landed in France this morning.  Yay!  We made the big journey of four kilometres from the ferry port to a free aire behind a lovely beach just outside Roscoff, Brittany.  Here we will stay for at least tonight to rest up, regroup and, for me at least, reacquaint myself with writing a blog.  My blog writing skills are somewhat rusty after such a long lay off so we may be here for three days.  Still, I have a wonderfully inspiring view, which I will show you at the end of this post, to help me get the brain in gear.

Firstly, how good is it to be back in France?  Merveilleux!  In our opinion, France is the motorhomers dream country to meander around in and we are very happy to be back here.  Tim was positively beaming from ear to ear this morning rolling off the ferry.  Anyway, that’s where we are at but we need to wind back a bit to give an update on campsite life from the inside looking out.

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The calm before the school holidays.

For those of you that remember from the last blog post (I concede it was a looong time ago) we were about three weeks into our two month stint of working at a campsite in Cornwall.  Up until that point the weather had been absolutely amazing but as we all know that kind of weather can’t last forever especially in the UK.  So when did the weather break?  The first weekend of the school holidays.  Of course it did.  Smiling, happy campers were leaving their homes under clear skies in thirty degrees of heat full of expectations of a sun drenched holiday in Cornwall.  Like lambs to the slaughter they were, trundling down that A30 past Bodmin.  They arrived on site and made the best of trying to get their tents pitched in the squally rain that was being whipped up by a gusty wind.  I had to admire their optimism.

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Off to a day at the office.

The pile it high sell it cheap world we live in hasn’t escaped the outdoor activity market.  The vast majority of tents these days are just not up to the job.  Most are just about fit for one season.  In the UK I would recommend a five season tent.  A five season tent will see you through Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter and the six weeks of the British school holidays.  Anything less just won’t do.  Most campers, if they weren’t actually inside their tents creating some ballast, were holed up inside their cars watching parts of their tents make their way to Land’s End.  It was a shame as, apart from a few days, the weather was poor throughout the whole of August as well (or it just felt that way after the good run we’d had).  We couldn’t grumble though as we had had the best of the weather since we had returned to the UK in April.  It did keep Tim and Barry (the maintenance chap) busy clearing away all the abandoned tents, inflatable chairs, lilos, tables, camping chairs, barbecues, wet bedding, wet pillows, gazebos, umbrellas, dinghies, broken windbreaks and the like on their rounds of the campsite bins in the mornings.  So much waste, just going into landfill, is sad to see.

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A walk along the coast path near Portreath.

Despite the weather the site remained practically full for the school holidays with just a few gaps here and there……….mainly from those that had left early as they no longer had a roof over their head or everything was soaked through.  Ah, happy days indeed.  Even though we are wusses now with the comfort and warmness and dryness of our van we were tent campers once and remember many holidays braved under canvas being at the mercy of whatever the weather had to throw at us.  It’s a rite of passage really.  We do still have a very lightweight backpacking tent with us in the van for the odd cycling or walking trip but I confess it’s not seen the light of day for the past four years or so.  We had intended to use it for a week or two walking the coast path in Cornwall or a trip to the Isles of Scilly after our campsite job ended but, well, France beckoned and that was the end of that!

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Happy as Larry on the tractor.

So despite the weather it was still busy on the site throughout the school holidays which meant we were kept busy too.  Obvs.  As you would expect you have to be a good all rounder when working on a campsite and turn your hand to anything and cleaning the shower blocks is all part of that ‘all round’ experience.  Now you do learn a lot about the nature of both yourself and other people when doing the job of cleaning up after them.  For example, I would never have known that urinals would give me the heebie jeebies but there it is, they do.  It was just best if Tim dealt with those.  Also, when we have worked together whilst we’ve been volunteering on our travels we have always sorted out pretty quickly between us a way of doing things in harmony.  Mmm, not so with the shower block cleaning.  We quickly decided on me doing showers, sinks and mirrors whilst Tim did toilets, bins and floor.  I know everyone will be thinking ‘poor Tim’ but he, of his own free will, chose those jobs (the urinals were added later after discovering my phobia).  So far so good.  Well, not really.  It became apparent that we each have our own ways of tackling cleaning jobs and things just didn’t ‘gel’ as it were.  Working together in a limited space trying not to trip over each other was a challenge especially if we were tired and when we both wanted to do things our own way.  On occasions it almost resorted to handbags at dawn.  There were glares, there were tuts, there were mutterings of ‘where’s the bloody bin gone’.  These were all from me of course as Tim just quietly and stoically got on with what needed to be done.  It wasn’t until about the eighth week into the job that we decided if I did the Ladies and Tim did the Mens then we would all be happy.  And so it was.  What can I say, we are slow learners.  If we’d just done that from the off we’d have saved ourselves a lot of angst.

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Not to be out done I had a go too!

Throughout our long camping, caravanning and motorhoming life we have stayed on countless number of campsites so pretty much knew what to expect in terms of shower block cleanliness.  Basically we’d surmised that there are two types of people…..those that clean up after themselves……..and those that don’t.  Oh but wait.  No.  There is a third type of person.  This type of person does bizarre things just to make your life that little bit more difficult.  For example, seals disappeared from shower heads and toilets, screws and locks disappeared from toilet doors.  As I said, bizarre.  Odd.  Just odd.  There’s nowt so queer as folk as they say.

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St Michael’s Mount.

It wasn’t all shower block cleaning though as we had a good mix of jobs from gardening, mowing grass, moving of caravans, office work, lodge and caravan changeover days, cleaning the pool and a new one for Tim ‘entertainer’.  As I’ve mentioned before on the blog Tim’s musical life has suffered whilst we have been on our travels and it was the one thing that he knew would be his biggest compromise when choosing to do this trip. Since buying the amplifier several months ago though he has managed to carve out a new persona.  That of solo musician playing to backing tracks.  It’s not ideal as he would much prefer to play with a band but needs must and all that.  The campsite has a small bar and puts on entertainment five nights a week during the school holidays.  There were quiz nights, karaoke nights, bingo nights, horse racing nights and various singers and what not so Tim asked if they’d like him to play.  Yes was the reply so he was kept busy entertaining the troops a couple of evenings a week.  Result.

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Grass cutting accompanied by Sandy the campsite pooch.

The music here in Cornwall has been a bonus as we’ve had folk nights at two different pubs we can walk to every week (although one of them is what I would term as ‘dirgy folk’ which has been a step too far for me).  There’s been a choir night once a month which is an anyone can come and join in affair which we have really enjoyed with everyone belting out the old Cornish songs and of course Tim went up to have a sing song with the ‘Four Lanes Male Voice Choir’ when he wasn’t working.    So all in all the we’ve had a decent amount of music added to our lives this summer.

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A September sunset.

That about wraps it up then on our venture into campsite work.  We’ve had a great summer down in Cornwall and enjoyed the experience.  The people we have worked with have been great and very easy to get on with which makes all the difference but with the busy season over it’s time for a break and pastures new.  The question is……will we go back to do it all again next year?  Of course!

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Our view today.

‘Andsome, my luvver!

 

Happy Campers in Cornwall…. .

So, we’ve been ensconced on the campsite we’ll be working on in deepest darkest Cornwall now for exactly three weeks.  Doesn’t time just fly?  Now I would like to say that I haven’t had time to get around to updating the blog because we have been sooo busy learning all aspects of campsite work and I’ve not had even so much as a minute to myself.  Alas, that would be a lie.  I’ve had oodles of time to get a blog post out but I just keep finding other things to do.  What you will notice as you read on through this post is that there is a distinct lack of photos.  The camera hasn’t really seen the light of day since we arrived as I’ve been travelling light when out and about, just enjoying it all without feeling the need to photograph anything and everything.  However, that has in turn caused me a problem.  Thoughts of writing a blog post without all the pictures to add colour to it has left me mute.  Having no pictures to break it all up means I’ll actually need to write something worth reading and that has been enough for me to put it off day after day after day.  Anyway, I had an email yesterday from one of my regular readers (aka my Mum) asking me what had happened to the blogging.  (Note to self – You can run, Jane, but you can’t hide).  Suffice to say it has galvanised me into action today to get a blog post out come hell or high water.  Of course I found other things to do until this evening before making a start though!

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A day out in St Ives.  

For all you regular readers you will know that we are down in Cornwall for the next two months or so to work on a campsite during the mad summer rush of the school holidays.  Campsite work has always been something we’ve talked about doing as it would appear, from the outside looking in, to be quite a nice lifestyle choice with a mix of indoor and outdoor work.  After having been in continuous travel mode for over two years we fancied a longer stint in the UK this year and a chance to stay put for a little while doing something different.  Instead of volunteering through Helpx we thought that as we were looking to be stationary for a couple of months at least then we might as well see if we could get some paid work.  So, in keeping with our motto of trying things we’ve never done before when we are on our travels we applied for a couple of campsite jobs.  There were lots we could have applied for but we specifically only really wanted just two to three months and most of them are for the whole season.  I have to say we were also quite picky about what we applied for.  We wanted something not on a main road with plenty of walks and cycles direct from the site, a pub or two we could walk to and for the site not to be too big.  That’s not too much to ask is it?  It appears not as where we are has ticked all those boxes with the added bonus of a Lidl within cycling distance.  And a Wetherspoons should we need it!

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Rock hopping on a walk from the site up to Carn Brea.

So, here we are at Lanyons Holiday Park not far from Redruth which will be our home until sometime in September.  It’s a smallish family run site with a mixture of privately owned static caravans, a couple of holiday lodges and four touring fields.  The owners and staff have been exceedingly welcoming and genuinely want to make our time here a happy one.  We arrived a week before our start date to get to know the site and the local area although having been born and bred in Plymouth and taking most of our holidays in Cornwall before moving to Wiltshire twenty some years ago we know it quite well.  It’s been really great being back in Cornwall visiting some old haunts even though the traffic seems to have doubled in the ten or so years since we were last here.  That and out of town retail outlets.  I don’t remember retail outlets this far down in Cornwall before.  Tim has joined the village male voice choir to go some way to fill his musically starved diary and those re runs of Doc Martin we’ve been watching have come in handy for understanding the local lingo.

After our first week of gallivanting around the local area we were more than settled in and ready to get cracking with some work.  Incidentally, we couldn’t have had better weather since we have been here.  It’s been sun, sun and more sun but with a nice breeze to keep the temperature just under boiling point.  So what have we been doing workwise?  Well, Tim has been happy as a pig in sh dreamland getting to use all the different boys toys helping with the mowing, strimming and caravan moving whilst I’ve been trained up in the office to cover a couple of days a week in there when the school holidays start.  Sandy, the campsite pooch, is in charge of maintenance and likes to sit in a bed behind the ride on mower to over see things.  At fourteen and a half years old he’s an old hand and couldn’t be happier when he’s in the thick of it.  If he’s left behind he howls and howls!

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Sandy, the site maintenance manager, on the ride on mower (Sandy is the one on the back!).  This was a photo shoot only as Tim is still a learner driver and unlicensed to take passengers and Sandy prefers to accompany Barry the maintenance man anyway.  

Aside from that there has been plenty of painting, cleaning, sweeping, mopping, hoovering, dusting and bin emptying.  Oh and ironing.  Yes, I have had to get reacquainted with an iron.  I haven’t used an iron in over two years and even before that it rarely saw the light of day.  I was very happy to do most of the ‘pink’ jobs in our previous life as I worked less hours than Tim and didn’t have a commute but I’m afraid I drew the line at ironing.  It was every man or woman for themselves on the ironing front.  I only ever ironed anything if it would really look like I’d slept in it if I didn’t iron it so getting to grips with ironing again has been a steep learning curve!  The site has two holiday lodges and four static caravans that they rent out which we’ll be doing some of the changeover days for.  Hence the need to iron the bed linen.  Ironed bed linen?  Who’d have thought! To be fair it’s all ironed under one of those press type irons but I’ve had to learn how to fold a fitted sheet to get it flat under the press.  Jeez, that was a mind bender.  FITTED sheets are called FITTED sheets and not FLAT sheets for a reason.  This is because they do not fold FLAT.  Period!  Still, it’s another skill to add to my CV.

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Learning to do straight lines!

There we have it then.  We are thoroughly enjoying campsite life from the inside looking out and happy to be a part of a community again, even if for a short spell.  Our friends, Nik and Phil, came down for a fleeting overnight visit and treated us to a meal out which we really appreciated and it was lovely to see them for a good old chin wag.

All in all then the campsite life is suiting us perfectly.

Proper job!

 

Final week in Scotland…. .

As much as we would have loved to stay longer exploring the NC500 time was running out.  Edinburgh was always going to be on the list of places to visit in Scotland as neither of us have been there before and having read many books set in and around Edinburgh it would be a chance to get a feel for the city and see for ourselves all the landmarks mentioned.  We drove from Thurso to Edinburgh in one jump coming down through the Cairngorms which took pretty much all day but accompanied by spectacular scenery was a pleasant drive.

We pitched up at a Camping and Caravanning Club Temporary Holiday Site just inside the Edinburgh ringroad.  It was in an ideal location with a bus stop just outside which made getting into Edinburgh stress free and at £8 per night was perfect for us.  I was pretty bowled over by the sheer scale of the city with so much to see and do: Edinburgh Castle, The Royal Mile, Holyrood Palace, Arthurs Seat, Calton Hill, New Scottish Parliament, Scott Monument as well as many museums, galleries and exhibitions.  We always, though, like to see a city through its green spaces preferring to explore on the outside rather than the inside.  You are spoilt for choice in Edinburgh as it is chock full of green spaces.

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Outside Edinburgh Castle.

After walking the length of the Royal Mile linking the Castle to Holyrood Palace we had a stroll through the 640 acres of Holyrood Park and walked up the 250 metre hill known as Arthur’s Seat where you have panoramic views of the city and surrounding area below.

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View across Salisbury Crags to the city.
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New Scottish Parliament in the middle.

We had a quick peek through the railings at Holyrood Palace before climbing up Calton Hill with the half finished Parthenon at the top (started in 1822 as a National Monument to the dead of the Napoleonic Wars it was never finished as the wonga ran out).

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Holyrood Palace.
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Views back to Arthur’s Seat on the way up to Calton Hill.
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Turns out we needn’t have gone to Athens!

Then we went on through Princes Street Gardens to the broad Georgian facades of the New Town for a poke about.

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Scott Monument.
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Looking towards the back of the Royal Mile from Princes Street Gardens.

We finished up in one of the Wetherspoons pubs on Princes Street.  It seems that Wevs is where we always end up!  This particular one was in a grand building that had once been a bank which is where it got its name from – The Standing Order.

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The Standing Order – another Wetherspoons in a fine building.

The following day we stayed on the bus through the city and got off near the port at Leith.

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Leith.

P1130411.JPGThe historic port with a medieval core of narrow streets and warehouses dating back to the 13th and 14th Century is now home to luxury waterside flats, offices, restaurants and the Royal Yacht Britannia.

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As you have to pay £16 to get anywhere near the Royal Yacht Britannia the top of the multi storey car park sufficed as the cheaper option.

After a quick photo shoot of the Britannia from the top of the multi storey car park we picked up the Waters of Leith footpath to take us back towards the city.  The path runs 12.5 miles alongside the Water of Leith from the docks at Leith to Balerno.  We walked four miles or so of it from the docks to bring us out at Dean village.  The first couple of miles from Leith were ok but not that picturesque and because of ongoing building work the path has been diverted at various points.  Getting closer in to the city though it was just lovely, very leafy and green with pretty terraced houses lining the river.

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Waters of Leith footpath.

When we got to Dean village itself we felt we had just come into a medieval town in France.

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Dean village.
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Dean village.

Having really enjoyed Alexander McCall Smith’s 44 Scotland Street series of books, which chronicles the fictitious lives of its eclectic residents living in the apartments of a Georgian town house, I was keen to seek out where it was.  No. 44 doesn’t actually exist of course but Scotland Street does.

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Scotland Street.

If you haven’t read the books then I do recommend them with some lovely characters including Cyril, the beer drinking dog with the gold tooth, owned by Angus Lordie the portrait painter, Big Lou who loves to dole out advice in her coffee shop and the long suffering six year old saxophone playing Bertie who has an over bearing pushy mother.

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The Cumberland Bar featured in the books.
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Moray Place, a duodecagon, don’t you know!

Having now got to know the area a little better I feel I need to read the books all over again.

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Mews houses in the New Town.

So that was Edinburgh.  Before we left Scotland we back tracked to Falkirk to have a gander at the Falkirk Wheel, the world’s only rotating boat-lift, linking the Forth and Clyde canal with the Union canal.  Opening in 2002, the Falkirk Wheel replaced a series of lock gates which had been demolished years ago to make way for housing and for the first time in forty years coast to coast navigation of the canals was re-established.

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The Falkirk Wheel boat lift.

We parked up to have a look at the Kelpies, Andy Scott’s horse head sculptures, four miles east of the wheel before walking along the canal to the Falkirk Wheel.  Well, how can anyone not love the Kelpies?  We thought they were just superb.

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The Kelpies.

Monuments to the working horses that played their part in the Industrial Revolution which shaped the geographical layout of the Falkirk area and unveiled to the public in 2013 they really are worth a visit.

P1130508.JPGSadly, due to a technical fault, the Falkirk Wheel wasn’t in operation after we’d walked the four miles along the canal to get to it!  Ho-hum never mind.  Tea and millionaires shortbread in the cafe alleviated some of the disappointment.  It did seem like a long four mile walk back again though.

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Swan family.
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Kelpies by night.

And there ended our tour of Scotland.  It is fair to say that Scotland dug deep into its pockets to bring out such lovely weather for our seven week tour which we are very grateful for.  I think we have seen Scotland at its best which, for us, is up there with the best we have seen so far on our trip.  Scotland and Slovenia are now my joint favourites and I expect we’ll be back again……and again……and again.  The Highlands for me were the highlight with so much more to explore and get to know but, after a pitstop in North Yorkshire to see my parents, we needed to press on South.  We have work to do!  We start our jobs working on a campsite in Cornwall next week so must crack on.  Back to work, mmm, now that’s going to be a shock to the system!

Laters!

NC500….Durness to Duncansby Stacks…. .

Well, how lucky have we been?  Sun and clear skies have accompanied us on our journey north from Inverness to the top of Scotland.  It seems we picked the perfect window in the weather to explore a section of the NC500.  It was more an NC100 rather than 500 as we didn’t have time to do it all.  My nephew, who we met up with in Thurso, said he had never seen weather like it in the three years he has lived there.  Totes amaze!  We meandered along the section across the top of the Highlands from Durness in the west to Duncansby Stacks in the east before heading south for a few days in Edinburgh.  Now, I could blather on and on, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah about the spectacular scenery and beautiful weather but I’m not even going to try.  The pictures say it all.  So here they are………….

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Looking towards the campsite at Durness, the most north westerly village on the British Mainland.
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Remains of Balnakeil Church.
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Balnakeil Bay.
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Looking back towards Balnakeil Bay on a walk to Faraid Head.

 

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Lunch stop at Faraid Head……….almost (the triangle of land at the headland is owned by the MOD so not accessible).  We could just make out Cape Wrath lighthouse in the distance.
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Cairn on the top of the hill looking back to Balnakeil.
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Looking out at the limestone cliffs at Smoo Cave.  
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Ceannabeinne Beach.
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Ard Neakie on Loch Eriboll.

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Looking across the Kyle of Tongue to the Rabbit Islands.
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The causeway crossing the Kyle of Tongue Loch.

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This pig had fur not hair!
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The incy wincy post office at Skerray.
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Local produce for sale at the bus shelter near Torrisdale.
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Thurso……….it had turned grey by then but was still dry.
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The beach at Thurso.

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Dunnet Head, a fantastic place to see Puffins close up.

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Had to be done!
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Duncansby Stacks.

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So there we are, a fabulous week all round.

Next up, Edinburgh.

Feasgar math!

 

 

The Great Glen…. .

You know you are firmly on the tourist trail when you pull into a viewpoint to have a brew and a random man appears from behind a gorse bush dressed in full kilt regalia….sporran, belt, buckles, spats, hat, the works….and starts puffing up the bag of his bagpipes revving them up for a full blown blast of pipe music.  Nearby a small table complete with tartan table cloth was set up displaying his wares.  The canny Scots do like a business opportunity.  Although I do like the whole pomp and ceremony of a piper all kitted out in his or her glory blasting out a few tunes I’m not sure I’d want to listen to a whole CD of it.  Not in one go at least.    Needless to say we drained our cups and left empty handed.

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Eilean Donan Castle near Dornie.

 

We were on our way up through the Great Glen which, thanks to a geological fault, creates a very scenic route through the valley from Fort William on the West coast to Inverness on the East.  We’d wanted to see the Caledonian Canal, built by Thomas Telford, which links four lochs (Loch Dochfur, Loch Ness, Loch Oich and Loch Lochy), giving a continuous watery route along the valley floor with a few locks thrown in effectively chopping the Highlands in two.

Wikipedia informs me there are 29 locks, four aquaducts and ten bridges along the course of the canal.  The canal opened in 1822 as a shipping channel but now leisure craft and gongoozler’s like us enjoy the spectacular scenery.

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The Calledonian Canal north of Loch Oich.

We cycled from the north-eastern end of Loch Oich along the canal into Fort Augustus which was a very scenic and stress-free way to arrive as when we reached the town it was very busy and we didn’t have the hassle of finding somewhere to park.

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On the way to Fort Augustus.

I have to say that we haven’t struggled to find anywhere to park in Scotland yet as the dreaded height barrier doesn’t seem to have reached here yet and there’s just more space here than further south.  Watching the boats go up and down the four locks is the spectator sport in Fort Augustus and with glorious sunshine it made for a very pleasant afternoon.

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Fort Augustus. 
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Pleasure Boats going out on Loch Ness.

It seems the legend of the Loch Ness Monster is still alive and well with tourist attractions like Nessieland and the Loch Ness Centre and Exhibition competing for visitors.  Steve Feltham has been a full time Nessie hunter since 1991 and lives all year round in a converted van on the banks of the loch at Dores.  Now that’s dedication for you.

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The Nessie Hunters man cave.

With the loch being twenty three miles long, one mile wide and two hundred and thirty metres deep at its deepest point Nessie may well be out there somewhere.

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Loch Ness at Dores.

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One of the top destinations to see dolphins in the UK is on the Moray Firth north of Inverness.  Conveniently our friends Sam and Chris live in Fortrose just a mile or so from Chanonry Point where a pod of dolphins come to feed on migrating salmon during spring and summer.  Our friends also, conveniently, have space for us to park up on their drive so we spent a weekend in glorious Scottish sunshine with them.

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So civilised when friends have space for us to park up.

Whilst having a cup of tea in their back garden, which has a view across the Moray Firth, we spotted a couple of dolphins in amongst the moored sailing yachts.  Sam said that they’d never, in the two years living there, seen dolphins from their back garden before so it was a bit of a coup.

We walked to Chanonry Point the following day to join the many other dolphin spotters hoping to see them.

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Hopeful dolphin spotters at Chanonry Point.

Well we waited………..and waited…………and waited………….and waited.  They finally appeared but were in sedate mood with just a few sightings of tail fins breaking the water.  We weren’t treated to the aerial displays that can sometimes be seen but we were happy that we’d seen them.

Having been quite disparaging about the humble bagpipe earlier on in this blog post we now have a new found respect for all the pipers everywhere.  You see, it just so happens that Sam plays the bagpipes and gave a resounding rendition on her pipes in the comfort of her back garden.

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The piper pro.

Fortunately the house on one side is empty and the elderly lady living the other side is deaf.  Those pipes are blooming loud.  Playing out in the middle of nowhere is probably the only place you get to practice without complaints from the neighbours.  Imagine your kid coming home from school declaring they want to learn to play the bagpipes.  Jeez, it would be enough to push you over the edge.  The chap we saw at the viewpoint probably only gets to practice out there with nothing else around.  Still, we both fancied a go.

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Having a go on a chanter which is apparently the first thing to start on when learning to play the bagpipes.

DSC05803.JPGWell, all I can say is it’s harder than it looks and takes a LOT of puff and coordination.  It’s like holding a cat under your arm whilst gently squeezing it remembering to blow into the blowy end and move your fingers on the chanter at the same time.  Not easy but highly entertaining!

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Too many bits and pieces to think about!

After all that excitement it was time to move on up to the North coast but not without a pit stop in lovely Cromarty on the Black Isle.

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Excellent free parking at Cromarty.
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The Oil Rig Graveyard of Cromarty Firth.

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Pretty cottages on the seafront at Cromarty.

Onwards North then.

Happy Friday everyone!