Sep 18 Skye

Refreshed after our rest day, we stocked up with provisions at the Co-op in Kyle of Lochalsh, and headed over the bridge to Skye.  The first place you come to once across the other side is Kyleakin.  We parked up there and had a look around the harbour.  There is also a visitor centre which provides information about the author, Gavin Maxwell, of the famous book “Ring of Bright Water”, which was about his relationship with the otters that he kept as pets here on Skye.  The book was published in 1960 and is considered a literary masterpiece by some.

Skye Bridge from Kyleakin on Skye

Before the bridge was built, the ferries across to Skye arrived here.  It was also a fishing port and there is still a small active fishing harbour there today.  It is a picturesque place to start a visit to Skye.

From here we drove along the A87 to Sligachan where we decided to spend the night.  Sligachan is overlooked by the Cuillin Hills and is a popular spot for campers and walkers.

View from campsite at Sligachan
View of the Cuillin Hills from Sligachan

Keeping to the A87 overlooking the Sound of Raasay, we stopped off at Portree, which is the capital of the island.  Here we enjoyed the picturesque harbour, along with a contingent from a visiting cruise ship!  The weather was rather unsettled so we decided not to stay in the sea front car park overnight.

Portree harbour from the car park
Looking down on Portree harbour
Portree harbour
Portree harbour looking across to Raasay

From Portree we took the scenic A855 coastal road along the Trotternish peninsula and stopped to view a few of the sights.

Trotternish scenery

This part of the island boasts some bizarre scenery, particularly on the east coast, where volcanic basalt has pressed down on the softer sandstone and limestone underneath.  This has caused massive landslides which, in turn, have created pinnacles and pillars.   First stop was The Old Man of Storr.

Road to Storr

This is a tall pillar of rock on the plateau of Storr that towers over the road.  We parked alongside the road and I embarked upon the long walk up to the stone but, the rain was coming in and visibility was falling rapidly, so I beat a hasty retreat back to Clyde waiting patiently in the van.  The views must be stunning from up there on a good day so it was disappointing to be rained off.

Old Man of Storr information
View from pathway to Storr

The next stopping point was kilt Rock and Mealt falls.  We also visited Staffin which is just a little further along the road.  The scenery on the peninsula was varied and often dramatic.

Cliffs at Staffin
Kilt Rock Falls
Waterfall on Skye

By now we were in need of a plan for the night so we cut across from just North of Staffin to Uig.  This is a small port where you can catch a ferry to Harris.  We stayed overnight on a small family run campsite near to the ferry port.  The mixed weather treated us to some dramatic light and a double rainbow.

Uig harbour at sunset
Rainbows over Uig

Our cross country route on a very minor road had been quite challenging for the driver but, at least he was used to the van and driving on the left.  We met an American couple who had hired a motorhome and had some traumatizing experiences to recount!  It was very interesting talking to them and hearing about their experiences.  They had been wowed by the scenery on their 3 week tour of Scotland.

I had rather hoped to visit Dunvegan Castle which is on the west side of Skye but.as ever, we were running out of time if we wanted to see more of the north of Scotland.  I compromised and we stopped at Dunvegan village in the mistaken belief that we would at least be able to see the castle from a distance.  No such luck, as it was well hidden by the trees.

We followed the A863 to Sligachan and stopped for a wander along the streamside.  It was so tranquil there we were tempted to stay again but, I was a woman on a mission to visit Armadale Castle so we pressed on.

Cuillin Hills
One of many pretty streams on the island

Armadale Castle is actually a ruin now but is situated in some lovely gardens with a view of the Sound of Sleat.  Clyde decided to stay in the van as he is a bit less enthusiastic than me when it comes to old ruins.  I had a walk around the gardens and then improved my knowledge of the history of Scotland in the visitor centre.  It is an extremely interesting exhibition with plenty of facts to interest all ages.  The museum tells the story of the Highlands and Islands through the story of the powerful Clan Donald.

Armadale information
Part of the ruined castle
View from Armadale Castle
Armadale Gardens

From Armadale we retraced our steps along the A851 to Broadford where we booked onto a new campsite for the night and stocked up once more in the local Co-op.  It was our last night on the Isle of Skye and we reflected that we had enjoyed every moment of our visit.  There are beautiful views wherever you look and plenty of wildlife and history to enjoy.

Sep 18 Travelling onwards to Skye

On our journey along the A82, we came across the Commando Memorial at Spean Bridge.

Commandos statue
Commandos plaque

It is a beautifully scenic spot for the memorial and there were a lot of visitors there in spite of the chilly and damp conditions.

View from Commando Memorial

At Invergarry we changed onto the A87 and travelled past Loch Garry and Loch Cluanie

Loch Garry

 

A87 snaking along through Five Sisters

The rest of our journey to Kyle was all about the scenery.  We were constantly amazed by the glens and the lochs and our senses were overloaded.

One of the Glens along A87

We made a slight error of judgment as we approached our destination at Morvich, near Kyle of Lochalsh.  We were tempted by a scenic route up the mountain road at Ratagan.  It was narrow and twisty as well as steep but had some lovely views of the loch below.

 

A87 Kyle
Loch Duich
Loch Duich

We didn’t complete the route as it was taking us away from our intended destination.  We later discovered that we could have followed the road along the coast overlooking Skye and all the way to a very lovely tea room.  Hmmm, seems a long way for a cuppa!

As we bowled along the A87 again, we spotted a well attended viewpoint and stopped to see what it was all about.  There was an amazing castle, right on the confluence of Loch Duich and Loch Alsh.  The castle was Eileen Donan castle, one of Scotland’s most famous landmarks.  As we got closer to it, we were able to appreciate the beauty and location that made it so famous.

First glimpse of Eilean Donan Castle from a viewpoint on A87
Eilean Donan Castle
Eilean Donan Castle
Eilean Donan Castle from the lochside

The castle has a long history starting in 634AD when Bishop Donan chose the tranquil spot to settle and create a monastic cell.  Alexander 11 later established the first castle in the 13th century, in an an effort to help protect t the area from Viking incursions.  The castle has expanded and contracted over the centuries until 1719 when it was involved in one of the lesser known Jacobite rising.  Three Royal Navy frigates were sent to deal with the uprising and after bombarding the castle, it was blown up using the 343 barrels of gunpowder that was stored inside.  After that, it lay in ruin for nearly 200 years.  Much of the castle was reconstructed as a family home between 1912 and 1932 by Lt Col John MacRae.  It is now open to visitors and is extremely popular with families.  It was certainly busy on the day we were there.

Close to our overnight stop was Loch Alsh

Loch Alsh viewpoint information

From the viewpoint you get a great view of the Skye bridge

Skye Bridge from the A87

We gave ourselves a rest day before crossing the bridge for our next excursion.  The scenery all around was fabulous and very relaxing.

Looking beyond Loch Duich
Mountains at Kyle
Dornie

 

 

Sep 18 From Connel to Fort William via Glencoe

Our route to Skye took us through Glencoe and Fort William.  We kept to the scenic route along the A 828 past Loch Creran and Loch Linnhe.

Loch Creran along the A828
Loch Linnhe

The weather was not too good at this stage and most of the scenery around Glencoe was shrouded in mist.  We stopped off at the visitor centre, which was interesting, and had a short walk in the rain.  It would have been a great place to spend a day if it had been less inclement.

Glencoe information
Glencoe region
View from Glencoe Visitor Centre
Glencoe visitor centre

From Glencoe we travelled along the A82 to Fort William where we had hoped to stay overnight by the ferry.  Unfortunately, there are notices up which specifically forbid overnight camping so we looked at a couple of alternatives on Park4Night and settled for this spacious spot!

Overnight stop at Fort William

By the time we stopped for the night, the wind was quite strong and we were glad not to be amongst the trees!  In the morning the weather had improved and the beautiful colours of the bracken and heather were enhanced by the sunshine.

A82 views
View from A82 on the way to Morvich

All along the A82 we had stunning views and our progress was slow as we had to keep stopping for a scenic cuppa.

 

Sep 18 The Trossachs & Loch Lomond

After Falkirk we headed across the Trossachs National Park to Loch Lomond.  We found a nice sheltered car park behind the Tourist Information and stayed the night.  There were some friendly folk there, also in motorhomes, so we had a very pleasant evening.  We also took a walk along the shore and enjoyed the view.  Next day we moved on to a small touring site at the North end at a place called Ardlui.  We stopped on the way at a small touristy place called Inveruglas.  It is a preserved lochside village with a pier.  It made a pleasant stopover for an hour or so.  Once at Ardlui we parked for the night overlooking the loch.  We had some more interesting neighbours, and a great view of the loch activities.  Plenty of folk on paddle boards and small dinghies.  There were also some waterskiers, all of which made an entertaining sight.

Here is a selection of views from the area.

Scenery along A82 Trossachs
More Trossachs
South end of Loch Lomond at Balloch
Along the A82 travelling North
The marina at Ardlui
View of Loch Lomond at Ardlui
North shore
Loch Lomond info
More view!

The next day we proceeded along the A82 and A85 to Oban.  We had decided not to visit Mull on this trip but, to spend some time on Skye.  We had a look around Oban and enjoyed lunch overlooking the harbour.

Oban harbour

We then started the slow drift north with an overnight stop at Connel overlooking Ardmucknish Bay.

Beach at Connel near Oban

Sep 18 The Kelpies

No trip to Falkirk would be complete without a visit to the Kelpies.  We were able to stay overnight for free but sadly there was no view of the Kelpies from the overnight parking place.

We thought the Wheel was amazing but, we were seriously stunned by the beauty of these enormous statues.

Approaching the Kelpies
Closer view. Duke(head down) and Baron(head up)

This was another British Waterways project for the Millennium.  This area was reclaimed from an industrial wasteland.  The Forth & Clyde canal runs through. The Kelpies are housed in a 350 hectare recreational green space called the Helix.  They stand 30 metres tall, and are the world’s largest equine sculptures.  At night they are illuminated and can be seen from miles around.

Night illumination
Beautiful view of Duke

We went on the guided tour to find out more. Once again we had a proud and enthusiastic guide.  The artist who designed the sculpture used two Clydesdale horses as his models.

The sculptor, Andy Scott with his two models

The structure was complex and we saw how it was created onsite.  The tour included a visit inside the structure too.

Inside a Kelpie

Why are they called Kelpies?  They were a spirit from the canals which were used as a threat to children to induce good behaviour.  “Be good or the kelpies will get you!”

The sculptures are surrounded by water and it reflects their image.

Evening reflection

This was a high spot for us.  We do love a statue but these were something very different.  The story of their inception and execution was fascinating.

 

Sep 18 Falkirk

Many moons ago we owned a succession of river cruisers and had a dream to buy a narrowboat.  The plan was to take a break from work and travel around the canals of the UK.  That plan changed when my job gave us the chance to live in Germany for 5 years.  The narrow boat idea became a motorhome instead.  One of the places that,as boaters, we had read about and marvelled at, was the Falkirk Wheel.

Until 1933, the Union canal and the Forth & Clyde canal, were linked via 11 locks. They took a day to transit.  However, once the trains arrived it was no longer necessary to transport goods on the canals and many fell into disuse.  It was due to British Waterway’s Millennium link project that many canals were restored and thus the plan to link the two again was formed.  Rather than recreate the lock flight, BW wanted to mark the Millennium with something more spectacular.  A team was formed from several different organisations and the design finally came together.  The wheel opened in 2002.

The Falkirk Wheel is the only rotating boat lift in the world and is a spectacular tribute to the design and build teams.

View from our camping place

We were really lucky with our overnight place in the top car park.  We had a splendid view and thoroughly enjoyed watching it rotate.

Upright view
The two gondolas almost level

There are some fascinating facts displayed

Amazing facts

We just couldnt resist the lure of a trip on the wheel.  We did get a discount as we had paid to stay overnight.  The views were pretty good from the top and it was a good way to appreciate the beauty of the design at close quarters.

View back towards the wheel
View out towards the Trossachs

The guide was very informative and obviously very proud of the Wheel and the achievement of his countrymen.  The Wheel is a worldwide wonder and attracts a lot of visitors.  We were certainly not disappointed.

Continue reading “Sep 18 Falkirk”

Sep 18 Edinburgh

One place we had long wanted to visit was Edinburgh so, after leaving our friends, we moved on to the great city.  We treated ourselves to a 3 night stay on a campsite near to a bus route into the city.  This enabled us to spend 2 whole days in the city and one of those was dedicated to visiting Edinburgh Castle.

Hazy view of the castle from Waverley Bridge

The castle has dominated the skyline for more than 900 years.  It has served as a royal palace, arsenal, gunfoundry, state prison, place of safe keeping for the Scottish crown jewels, and more recently as an infantry barracks.   It is an enormous site with a lot to see.  We had a really good day there and felt it was worth the cost of entry.

View across Edinburgh from the battlements
Further battlements view
Mons Meg
Mons Meg information
St Margarets Chapel
Statue of General Haig

Edinburgh was well established by 1100 and was recognised as the capital of Scotland by 1350.  The old town stretches, like a Herringbone, down the ridge below the Castle with just one major street and a host of narrow closes (alleys) leading directly off it.

The Old Town was small and contained on all sides which led to the development of high rise housing.  By the late 1600s some houses were reaching 9 stories or more.  Gladstone’s Land, at the upper end of the Royal Mile, is one of the few old houses remaining from this period.  It was built in 1550 and has been recently restored by the Scottish National Trust.  I went for a guided tour which was most interesting and led by a sprightly 91 year old guide.  Her only difficulty was getting down the steep stairs!  There was nothing wrong with her brain.  I had a lovely chat with her after the tour about travelling in a campervan.  She and her husband had a campervan in the 1950s. She was astounded to hear that we have a shower and central heating in ours.

One of the original decorated ceilings in the house
View into the close from the top floor

We walked the length of the Royal Mile and then down to the Scottish Parliament.  There were many stops along the way as we spotted different points of interest.  St Giles Cathedral is well worth a visit.  The Scottish Parliament building was quite controversial when it was built and cost a massive amount of money.  The architect was Catalonian and died before the build was complete which was a cause of much concern at the time.  However, the building was completed eventually and even won a RIBA Stirling prize in 2005.  You can enter the building for free and view parliamentary proceedings in the debating chamber from the public gallery.  We decided it was a must for us and it just happened to be the first day of the new parliamentary year following the Summer break.  We listened to Nicola Sturgeon and Ruth Davidson before quietly slipping out.

Scottish Parliament building

 

St Giles Cathedral

There were so many interesting buildings and sights it is not possible to include them all.  We were only able to see a small percentage.

Outside the National Gallery of Scotland
Looking towards The Mound
The Scott Monument

We enjoyed our visit but were now ready to move on towards the West.  Next stop Falkirk.

 

Sep 18 Berwick and Lindisfarne

Two years ago, our lovely next door neighbours moved to Allanton near Berwick.  We finally found ourselves in a position to pay them a visit and make use of their drive (and washing machine!).  Whilst we were there we visited Berwick and Lindisfarne.

Berwick is England’s most northerly town.  It was once Scotland’s wealthiest royal burg and it’s greatest seaport.  It’s strategic location and commercial importance put Berwick in the frontline during 300 years of warfare in the Middle Ages.  From 1296 to 1482 it changed hands 13 times between the kingdoms of England and Scotland:

List of ownership changes

The Tudors were keen to hang on to Berwick and spent vast sums on its defences.  In 1558, just before Elizabeth 1 came to the throne, the new Italian designed ramparts were commissioned.  These walls took 12 years to build and cost £128,648 (almost £40 million today).  The Union of the Crowns in 1603 meant that the town would never change hands again.

Today, you can walk around the walls enjoying the views and the three bridges. The Old Bridge, also known as Berwick Bridge, dates from 1611, The Royal Tweed Bridge is the most recent, completed in 1928, and The Royal Border Bridge is a 19th Century railway viaduct designed by Robert Stephenson and opened by Queen Victoria in 1850.

The Old Bridge with glimpses of the more recent bridges beyond
The most recent two bridges

On the river Tweed, there is a variety of wildlife and a large colony of swans.  It is the second largest mute swan colony in Britain.

There are plenty of opportunities to explore Berwick’s history.  The Borough Museum and Art gallery are within the historic Barracks.  Dewar’s Lane Granary was immortalised by LS Lowry in his paintings and it now houses a cafe, gallery and 5* youth hostel.

Information about ‘The Lions’ – used in many of Lowry’s paintings
The actual building described above

It was interesting to spend time in an environment that had obvious impact on Lowry’s life and his paintings.

The Main Guard, which was moved from Marygate to Palace Green in 1815. Contains the history of Berwick life through the ages

The town itself is quite attractive and the main street is dominated by the spired Town Hall.  You can take a tour around the Guild Hall and old gaol cells.  We didn’t as we had arranged to meet our friends for their own version of a guided tour, followed by a delicious lunch in one of the independent tea rooms.

Spired Town Hall in Marygate

As ever, there was more to see and do in Berwick and we would enjoy another visit.  There is a campsite just across the river with views out across the estuary………..

On the way back to Allanton, we stopped at the oldest iron suspension bridge in the UK.  It is called the Union Bridge and I have included a picture of the history board below.

Iron suspension bridge information
The actual bridge

We just had to stand on it with one foot in England and one in Scotland.  It is actually quite understated, but historic nonetheless.

LINDISFARNE

Next day we had a trip to Lindisfarne (correct name is now Holy Island).  To access the island you have to await low tide so that the road across the causeway is accessible.  We had 6 hours in which to make our trip.

View from the causeway

Lindisfarne Castle is run by the National Trust and as we are all members, we went for a look.  Sadly, it has been undergoing a program of renovation and all the furniture has been temporarily removed.  The castle sits on a small pyramid of rock half a mile from the village.  It was built in the middle of the 16th century to protect the island’s harbour from the Scots but had fallen into disrepair when it was rediscovered by Edward Hudson in 1901.  He was the founder of Country Life magazine and he commissioned Edward Lutyens to turn it into an Edwardian country house.

Lindisfarne castle from the bridge
Castle view from the causeway
View from the castle

The village was busy with school parties and a few foreign tourist groups.  We could have visited the Priory ruins but as it was a bit of a nippy day, we opted for a bowl of soup in the nearby hotel, and viewed it from a warm window seat.

There are some shops selling local produce, honey and mead are popular.  The charm of the place is its remoteness from the mainland and the wildlife.  On the way back across the causeway, we saw a seal in the shallows.  Presumably it was awaiting the incoming tide.

 

 

Aug 18 Alnwick

Alnwick was on our list of places to visit if ever we were up this way.  It has had a turbulent history due to the fractious relationship between England and Scotland.  Alnwick has survived wars, skirmishes, sacking and burning.  King Malcolm 111 of Scotland was killed here, marked with a cross near the castle, and King William of Scotland was captured here in the Second Battle of Alnwick.  The castle was built and expanded by the Percy family (it was given to Baron de Vesci after the Norman Conquest and later acquired by the Percy family) and a wall was constructed around the town itself to defend it against the Scots Border Lords.  It is a much more peaceful place today but its history can be seen throughout the town.

We were able to park near the castle and walk alongside the gardens into the town.  We were only there for the day so we did not expend a great many British pounds to visit the castle and gardens.  There was plenty to enjoy for free and we made the most of the day.

Having driven through the town looking for a car park, we already had our bearings.  We went into the market place and ate our sandwiches on a rather splendid bench.  The town seems to specialise in splendid benches!  We washed them down with a cuppa from one of the cafes in the square.  Never let it be said that we don’t support the local economy.

Alnwick Market Place

We enjoyed roaming around the historic streets before returning to the Castle and Gardens area.  The railings separating the gardens from the public footpath, were splendid, and we had tantalising glimpses into the gardens beyond.  We missed seeing the splendid water sculptures and the grand cascade, although we got a quick peek through the entrance gateway.

Decorative railings at Castle Gardens

The grounds surrounding the castle are open to the public and would make an ideal place for a picnic.  There were lots of families enjoying the space.

View of the castle from the gardens

Barter Books is one of the largest second hand and antiquarian bookshops in Britain.  The bookshop is housed in the old railway station and is an absolute joy to visit.  There is plenty of comfortable seating, coal fires and an in-house Station Buffet serving fresh homely food all day.  I could have spent all day in the bookshop but, sadly, I had to relinquish the thought and move on.

Barter Books entrance
Inside Barter Books

On our way back to the van, we had a look at the enormous treehouse on the outskirts of the gardens.  It houses a restaurant that is accessible without paying to go into the gardens.

Enormous treehouse which houses a restaurant based in the gardens

There is a lot more to see in Alnwick but we were really just passing through.  I would recommend it as a place to visit for longer than one day.

Aug 18 Beamish Open Air Museum

We visited Beamish on a less than beautiful day (there was rain), but we had such an interesting day we didn’t mind.

The museum currently tells the story of life in the North East of England during the 1820s, 1900s and 1940s.  They are working on the 1950s but that part is not open yet.

We found the 1900s really fascinating as the shops and bank are so reminiscent of our own childhoods, particularly Clyde’s.  There were so many places to visit in each time period that it was impossible to see everything, so we had to be selective.

Barclays Bank counter
Shopkeeper explaining the till system!
Inside the Co-op

The people in the shops etc were dressed in the costume of the day and there were goods for sale.  They were all very knowledgeable and very happy to share this with the visitors.  In the Co-op, Clyde was transported back to his childhood and he can still remember their dividend number!  We were amazed by the money handling rules and the kit used to send it to the cash office and receive change.  There were no counter top tills.

Garage workshop

There were some old cars on display at the garage but, I was interested in the workshop with all the bits of kit.

Inside the printers
Printing plates and press

The printing works had displays of printed material and newspapers from the era.  The machinery was very evocative of the time before computers.

Haberdashery
Open top tram
One of the beautiful old trams in action

We had a couple of trips on the trams to save our legs.  The seats were a bit hard though!

Puffing Billy. This is older than Stephensons Rocket!
Puffing Billy’s carriages
1900s schoolroom

This school room reminded me of my school in the small Suffolk village where I grew up.

Mine buildings
Drift mine

Of course, this was a mining area and there was an exhibition of mining memorabilia along with an illuminating display  of the development of safety lamps (pardon the pun!) There is also a moving photographic portrait of the huge numbers of miners who worked in the mines.  The camaraderie was so important to these men and boys for safety and friendship.  The strength of their bonds led to the development of the village platoons who fought in the first world war, and died, together.  Very moving.

This is a fascinating view of life in earlier times and we would like to go again once the 1950s phase is complete.

Aug 18 Moving on to Durham

After a couple of nights on a CL that was handy for Bamber Bridge, we took a scenic route across the Yorkshire Tales to Durham.  We nipped up the M6 to J37, took the A684 via Hawes to Leyburn then headed for the A1 for a quick sprint up to Durham.  It was a beautiful drive with plenty of open views.  Somehow it looks so different from the Peaks but we could not decide how.

i Dales sheep
Yorkshire dales
Bit of tourist info at a viewing point on the road to Hawes

Hawes is a pretty market town well worth a visit. We only had time for a short stop but it was bustling with market activity.  We had stopped on the way to view the Dales and met a lovely

River in Hawes

Dutch couple who had already been to the market and stocked up.  They were really enjoying their 3 weeks visit to England.

After we had finished stretching our legs in Hawes, we completed our journey to Durham Caravan and Motorhome club site ready for our trip into the city next day.

The trip into Durham was easy, if a little dicey.  We had to walk to the park & ride via the busy dual carriageway, slip road from the A1 and 4 lanes of traffic on the road past the P&R!  That got us awake and active.  The trip to the city centre was £2 for me and free for Clyde, and took 10 mins.  Once there we quickly found the Durham Pointers(local guides).  They were very helpful and provided city maps and guidance.  We had a look around the covered market then headed to the Cathedral.

Memorial statue in the market square
One of the many narrow cobbled streets in the centre
Outside the covered market
Market day

We visited Durham twice and on the second visit, on Saturday, there was a rather nice market taking place.  It added a real buzz to the place and it was certainly a lot busier that our visit on the Thursday.

View of the river Wear from Elvet bridge

The river Wear flows around the centre of Durham and there are several bridges affording pretty views.

Framwellgate bridge. Looking up to the castle

After enjoying the market place and some of the cobbled streets, we made our way to the Cathedral.  As ever, it is undergoing some restoration work.  We parted with £3 each to enter, so added a little to the coffers.  I had just taken a picture of the impressive interior when I discovered that photographs are forbidden, oops!

The cathedral sporting a fancy hat!
Durham Cathedral
Inside the cathedral. Taken before I realised photos are not allowed!

In fact, the exterior was also very attractive and on my second visit, I was able to explore the cloister and photos were allowed there.

Wooden ceiling of the cloisters
Durham Cathedral Cloisters
View from the cloisters
Arty cloister view

On the Saturday, we had decided to visit the castle.  We bowled enthusiastically into the Heritage Centre to purchase a ticket, to be informed that we had to join a tour, and they were all sold out!  We were not the only visitors to be disappointed.  Oh well, that’s back on the to do list.  As I had been thwarted, I decided to have a look at the Open Treasure exhibition in the Cathedral instead.  Clyde took the opportunity to do his own thing for an hour and then we met up for a cream tea.  Shocking impact on the waistline, but had to be done.

View up to the castle from one of the bridge over the Wear

This was as close as I got to the castle.

Castle view from Framwellgate bridge

Our visit to Durham was great and we broke it up with a day at Beamish open air museum.  I will write up on a separate post.

Aug 18 Lancaster

For a short break, we selected a lovely private campsite 3 miles from Lancaster.   The site was called Ashton Hall Caravan Site and is in the grounds of an old manor alongside a golf course and garden centre.  It is a beautiful setting which would have been even better had the weather been less inclement.  However, it was very convenient for Lancaster and the nearby coastline overlooking Morecambe Bay.

After an abortive attempt to find a bus from outside the campsite, we drove into Lancaster, which was actually very straightforward and there was plenty of parking.  The town is very compact and attractive and we had a very pleasant few hours ambling about.  There is a castle which we walked around but, we did not go in as there was a special event on involving witches, which did not appeal to us.  Next to the castle is the Lancaster Priory and church of St Mary which we did go into.  Not particularly remarkable but free.

View across Lancaster from the castle
View over Lancaster
Lancaster Priory Church of St Mary

 

Castle gate

On the way back to the car park, we popped into the Cathedral of St Peter.  We would have liked to visit the Ashton Park memorial and butterfly house but, we had run out of time.  There is a lot to see in and around Lancaster and it would be worth another visit in the future.  But, we had to be in Bamber Bridge to get the TV fitted so, we put it back on the to do list.

Aug 18 Visit to Chatsworth House

Whilst staying near Bakewell, I had a call from one of my oldest and dearest friends.  She lives in Sheffield and was planning to visit Chatsworth with a friend, on the Friday.  As we had planned to visit on the same day, we were able to combine a lovely day out with a reunion.

The weather was supposed to be reasonable on that day but we packed our waterproofs in our backpacks just in case.  Lucky we did as it turned out!  Fortunately we were able to provide lunch and hot drinks in the van whilst we awaited an improvement.  But, I am ahead of myself…

We drove throughout Chatsworth village, past the farm shop and through the pretty parkland.  The house was ahead of us and made an impressive sight.

Imposing view from the car park

It is not cheap to get in to Chatsworth but, I had booked online and saved £4.  There are no concessions and no annual pass conversion as with Blenheim Palace.  However, we made the most of our day and were amongst the last stragglers to leave!

Chatsworth is the seat of the Duke of Devonshire and has been home to the Cavendish family since 1549.  The current Duke and Duchess are very much involved with the estate and indeed, if you have reason to phone, it is the Dukes voicemail message on the answer phone!  I discovered that when the lady in the tourist information office made a call on my behalf to ask about the e.ticket.

The house contains works of art dating back 4000 years and also has more modern prices by Lucien Freud, Edmund de Waal and David Nash.  Add to that the sheer scale of the place and the opulence and it is really impressive.  There are interesting quotes from people, such as builders and decorators, who have worked on the house over the years, displayed on the windows.  One of the most impressive features is the 24.5 carat gold on the window frames in the courtyard.  The preparation and execution is described in great detail by those who worked on it.  Absolutely fascinating.

Inner courtyard. The window frames are coated with 24.5 carrat gold!

I was particularly impressed by this sculpture.  It looks as though you could wrap the veil around the figure, it was so finely executed.

Seriously impressive statue
Description of above statue

The many rooms are elaborately decorated, as one would expect in such a grand house.

Ceiling art!
Library
Fabulous interiors is a common thread here
More ceiling art!
Entrance hall
This is a shower from 1800s

Before the rain fell upon us in a deluge, we managed to enjoy the maze, the rockery and the long walk.  The gardens were first constructed in 1555 by Sir William Cavendish and Bess of Hardwick.  Capability Brown had an input in 1758 but there have been othercontributors over the years.  Today you can see the 300 year old Cascade, the Willow Tree Fountain and the gravity fed Emperor Fountain.  There is also a maze, rockery and rose, cottage and kitchen gardens to enjoy.  Unfortunately the heavy rain curtailed our garden exploration.

Water feature. Only runs for short periods to save water
Garden steps
Rock garden

We only scratched the surface of this magnificent stately home.  It would be worth another visit next time we are in the area.

 

Aug 18 Peak views

We  are working our way towards Scotland but had an appointment near Preston to get a TV fitted.

Yes, we have decided, after a year of travelling, to have the option of watching dvds.  We found the evenings long and dark last winter, even in Spain.  Much as we love reading, crosswords, crochet etc, sometimes we really craved a bit of entertainment.

On the way north we spent some time in parts of the Peaks not previously visited.  Here is a selection of views we enjoyed in spite of the fading weather.  We stayed on farm campsites in some stunning locations near Bakewell, Castleton and Holmfirth.  The roads were often narrow and twisty and went up and down a lot!  You don’t get great views without some effort!

View towards Bakewell from riverside walk
Bakewell bridge
Walk up to Surprise View
Dark Peak Surprise View

High up at Surprise View
Boulder view!
Digley Reservoir near Holmfirth
Another Peaks road
Stormy campsite! Whitegate Leisure Camping, near Holmfirth

We booked a hill top campsite close to Holmfirth for 2 nights and were advised by the owner, not to follow the sat nav, but to follow his complicated directions from the town centre.  Needless to say, by the time we were actually making the trip, I had slightly forgotten the fine details and I was unable to find the correct road.  Using a mixture of map and sat nav, I navigated us up a very narrow road with the sharpest hairpin bend we have ever encountered.  How my trusty pilot got us round it, we will never know.  Not an experience to be repeated!  When we arrived, the owner pointed out the correct road and tsk tsked at my tale of  woe.

Driving down Winnats pass to Castleton from Rowter Farm campsite
Heading down to Castleton
Trees at side of reservoir
Dramatic stormy view of the peaks
Sunset clouds over the Peaks

Whilst we were staying near Bakewell, we invested a great many Great British Pounds in a visit to Chatsworth.  See separate post.

After a fabulous couple of weeks in the Peaks, we travelled north to Lancaster for a quick visit before our appointment in Bamber Bridge near Preston.

 

 

 

July 18 Back to UK

  • We returned home in time to prepare for Marcus’s wedding on 22 Jul.  The weather remained glorious and their wedding garden party was a wonderful family occasion.

To recover, and as we had an appointment in Banbury on 25th, we left the family once more.  Appointment over, we had a quick look at the map and saw that we were close to Blenheim Palace.  As we have not been there, we booked onto a budget pitch at the Caravan and Motor home Club site at Woodstock for a few days.  A shady pitch under the trees was very welcome as it was still very hot.

Our first day was spent relaxing and taking a leisurely stroll into Woodstock.   It is a delightful Cotswold town with little shops and hostelries.

One of the attractive roads in the centre of Woodstock
Woodstock town hall

We had a pleasant walk around then stocked up in the Co-op.  Clyde had a lot of discomfort with his leg and the heat didn’t help, so we decided to drive to the Palace next day.

Having been to Chambord recently, we were interested to see how our English country pile would compare.  Of course, it is completely different and has a history that we can identify with.  This is very much more of a home and the human touches are everywhere.  This was the birth place of Winston Churchill and therefore, very much more interesting to us.  There is a very interesting Churchill exhibition which should not be missed.

Front door and Palace courtyard

The rooms that were open to the public were all ornate with fabulous ceilings and immense wall hanging tapestries.  The tapestries have been restored in Belgium and should now last for many more generations to enjoy.

One of the many fabulous tapestries and ornate rooms
Enormous library with organ
Organ at the end of the library
Impressive sculpture in the chapel

As the day was so hot, we decided to explore the house and, as we had converted our ticket to an annual pass for free, we planned to explore the grounds next day.  We did have coffee at the terrace cafe which overlooks the splendid terrace garden.

Terrace garden with multiple fountains
View of terrace garden from the side
Palace from the walk to the formal gardens

Believe it or not, when we returned the next day, it rained heavily!  After waiting for it to pass over whilst drinking more coffee, we gave up and decided to come again within the next 12 months.

Jul 18 Honfleur

With huge wisdom and an unerring sense of direction and distance, I decided that we could visit Honfleur en route from Chambord to Dieppe!!  I later discovered that I had remembered the ferry time wrong by 3 hours but, at this point it was not on my radar.

It was quite a long way from the Loire and the extremely high temperature made us grateful for the cab air con as we navigated our way north avoiding the toll roads.

We had decided to stay on a campsite 3 km outside Honfleur and take the bus into the centre.  We were also able to get a load of washing done and have a refreshing shower.  The site was very convenient for the bus stop and they provided us with a timetable and a tourist information leaflet.  Next day we sallied forth and spent a massive 50c each on the bus fare!

Honfleur nestles between the Seine estuary and the plateau of the Pays d’Auge. It is still a fishing port and now has a popular yacht harbour.  The town has a rich historic and artistic heritage with picturesque streets and traditional buildings.  There are numerous art galleries and antique shops to enjoy.

Shopping street
Cobbled square

The harbour area was busy and colourful and there were full tables at all the restaurants that lined the surrounding streets.

Colourful harbourside buildings
Fishing boats and yachts

We also found the 16th century church of St Catherine a welcome change from the usual gothic architecture.  It is a wooden structure which was built by shipwrights and is the largest wooden church with a separate bell-tower, in France.

St Catherines church
Inside the church
Church organ
Wooden bell tower

There are plenty of interesting buildings and the sea front and park are popular with families.  There is also a beautiful merry go round at the end of the old port (vieux bassin).

One of the beautiful old buildings alongside the Vieux Bassin

After a very hot few hours roaming around Honfleur, and a delicious ice cream to cool us down, we caught the bus back to the campsite.  It would definitely be worth another visit one day as we only scratched the surface.

Back at the van I checked the itinerary for our ferry home to discover – it sailed at 1230, not 1530 – oops!  We thus had a very early start to our day on 2 Jul but it was a pretty 2 hour drive to Dieppe and we arrived in plenty of time.

Jun 18 – Revisiting the Loire

After Annecy we had to start making our way back towards Dieppe.  We had time to visit some of the places in the Val-de-Loire that we missed on the way down due to the poor weather.  We could not stop in all the places that appealed to us, so we drove the scenic route D952 starting at Gien.  The road took us through some rather less hilly countryside than we had experienced during the last few weeks, but was pleasant and had tempting glimpses of the Loire and pretty villages.  By the time we had meandered as far as Chateauneuf-Sur-Loire, we were ready to stop for the night.  We quickly checked the ACSI book and found a cheap site that was right on the banks of the Loire.  It was so well placed for enjoying the river and the little town, that we stayed for 3 nights.

Loire-side campsite

Chateauneuf-Sur-Loire

This is a quaint little town which had a castle until the French Revolution.  The building was largely destroyed after that time, but the rotunda still survives and now houses the town hall.

Council offices in the rotunda
Bug houses in the gardens

You can view the decorative entrance hall but not on the day we were there!  Around the castle are the landscaped gardens which cover several hectares with remarkable tree specimens and alleys of magnolias and giant rhododendrons.  The views across the Loire valley from the castle gardens are most attractive.

Loire valley view from the old chateau

The church of Saint Martial in the centre of the town, has a very unusual entrance and beautiful stained glass windows.

Exterior of Saint Martial church
Colourful window in the church

Saint Dye-Sur-Loire

My aim was to visit the Chateau du Chambord and the aire at Saint Dye was the closest spot to stay.  It is possible to stay overnight in the chateau car park but, it costs €17 and is not such an attractive location.

We parked for free alongside the Loire and enjoyed a walk along the river to the village church and centre.  The patisserie was rather enjoyable too!

Our view from the free aire
Sunset over the river
Manor House overlooking the Loire on edge of the village
Church road!

Chateau Chambord

We had a very short journey to the chateau and parked for the princely sum of €11! The walk to the chateau along a footpath gave an enticing view through the trees to the chateau.

First glimpse of Chambord

As we got closer and had a clearer view, it was seriously impressive.

Chateau Chambord in all its glory
View from the approach footpath

We enjoyed our visit and paid extra to have the histopad which gave visual information and an English commentary.

One of many richly decorated rooms

Although there were 24 rooms to visit, some of which contained historic artefacts, the outside was more interesting architecturally.

One of the terrace views
Another impressive tower

Having said that, the chateau is known for its double-helix staircase which is attributed to Leonardo da Vinci.  There are two separate flights of stairs proceeding upwards around a hollow newel post.  If two people choose to use different flights, they will catch glimpses of each other through numerous loopholes as they ascend…without ever meeting!

Double helix staircase

Alongside the staircase there are vaulted rooms with amazing ceilings.  The oratory on the first floor is similarly decorative.

Oratory

Outside the chateau there are extensive grounds to be explored (13450 acres)

Extensive grounds stretching away from the chateau

and the Chambord Chapel of St Louis, which was built before the chateau.

Inside the chapel

The formal French gardens are best viewed from the terraces at the top of the chateau.  They were completed during the reign of Louis XV and existed for 2 centuries before falling into disrepair.  They were restored in 2017 and have still to reach maturity but are nonetheless attractive in design. 

French Gardens

I was not disappointed with the chateau and together with the drive along the Loire valley and the riverside camping opportunities, it was a fabulous few days.

Jun 18 Le Bourget du Lac and Annecy

After Castellane we needed to start working our way back northwards.  I had read really good things about Annecy, so we decided to go there but had to break the journey up.  The next stop we identified was at Gap and we decided to stay on a campsite and use their electricity to charge all our equipment.  The ACSI site we stayed on was very quiet, apart from the noisy peacocks that were roaming about!  We also managed to fill up with LPG ready for further off grid stopovers and cooking.  The weather was gorgeous, so we had an extra day just soaking up the sun. We did not go into Gap itself.

Moving on from Gap took us through amazing scenery just as stunning as the journey from Castellane to Gap.  By now we were starting to get view overload!

Distant mountains en route to Annecy
Sound of Music?!!

Le Bourget du Lac

As we wandered towards Annecy we came upon another lovely lake and stopped there for a couple of days.  We stopped on an aire that was outside the gates of a lakeside campsite.  The advantage was that we could use their facilities.  It was a short walk to the lake in one direction and to the village in the other.  The lake was very popular and had a beach with facilities for swimmers and there were also boaters and kite surfers on the main lake.  As the sun was shining brightly, it was a very busy place.

Lac du Bourget
Off shoot alongside the campsite
Kite surfer with mountain backdrop
Another lake view

Annecy

We drove through Annecy on our way to the campsite.  As we rounded a bend and saw the bright turquoise of the lake, we really thought we must have overshot and arrived in Switzerland.  Somehow, we had not expected it to be so beautiful.  After a couple of disappointments, we arrived at a lovely family run campsite, just a stones throw from the lake and a 15 minute walk from a bus stop.  The site was in Sevrier, just 7 kms from Annecy town.

Campsite view. Nature reserve and mountains!

The next day we caught the bus and armed with the tourist trail map from the campsite reception, we made sure we saw all that interested us.

Annecy can date itself to the Neolithic period as there have been significant remains of lakeside villages uncovered that testify to human occupation from that time.  From then on there have been many changes that have ensured it remained an important settlement.  In the 21st century, Annecy presents itself, in the magnificent setting of its mountains, its lake and its old quarters, as a multi-faceted town which captivates its visitors.  It is also undergoing strong population and economic growth whilst maintaining its tourist appeal.  It captivated us and the thousands of other tourists that were clogging up the streets!

The first day we concentrated on the lake and the canals which also took us through the old town streets.  We had lunch sitting in one of the main streets and enjoyed the lively atmosphere.  The walk around the park side of the lake was beautiful with that bright turquoise water glinting in the sunlight.  There was plenty of people watching to satisfy me.  We also managed to visit a couple of churches along the way and Palais De L’ile.

Lakeside view
View from the Pont des Amours
Busy promenade
Amazing sculpture on the lakeside
Shopping street
Inside the St Pierre cathedral
One of many vaulted shopping streets
Looking towards the old town
The historic Hotel de Ville. The 1771 ironwork of the staircase displays the trout of the coat of arms of Annecy
Palais de L’isle
Canal running along and around the Palais

The next day we went back to visit the chateau.  The journey in took a lot longer as there was a triathlon taking place and the police were holding up the traffic as the cyclists flowed through.  The bus driver let us all get off near to the town as it was quicker to walk the rest of the way.  The chateau overlooks the town and the lake and houses some interesting exhibitions.  The best part was the views over the town.

Castle courtyard
Town view from the chateau
View from the chateau to the lake

This is another area of France that was new to us and that we would gladly visit again.  It would be worth spending more time here and, if we can source a bike for Clyde that he can ride with his unbending leg, we can explore some of the many bike trails.

 

Jun 18 Moustieres Ste Marie

Moustieres-Sainte-Marie

This is another of the most beautiful villages but, we had chosen to stay here as it is ideally placed for a visit to St Croix du Verdon and is also at the start of the scenic route along the Gorges du Verdon to Castellane.

Moustieres sits at the entrance to the Grand Canyon du Verdon, protected by a golden star suspended on a chain high above the village between two rocky cliffs.  Try as I might, I could not manage to photograph the star.

Medieval Moustieres was a village of stationers, potters and drapers due to the body of water that still flows down the rocky cliffs.  In the 17th century an Italian monk from Faenza brought the secret of enamelling here, and Moustieres became the capital of the most beautiful faience.  That industry disappeared in the 19th century but has now been revived and over a dozen studios marry tradition with innovation.  We looked around some of the studios and were very attracted to their beautiful products.  We were less attracted by the prices!

Walking up through the village
Village wash house
Distant view from the steps up to the chapel

The village was bustling with visitors when we were there and we enjoyed sampling the local  pastries, whilst sitting on a bench overlooking the valley.  Once fortified we made the 350 steps climb up to the chapel of Notre-Dame-de-Beauvoir.  The views down over the village and the valley beyond towards the Lac de St Croix made the climb worthwhile.

Village view
Out across the valley below
Looking up to the chapel
Front door of the chapel
The church in the town centre. Visible from all around

The journey back down on the uneven stones was a bit more challenging and especially so for Clyde with his dodgy knee.

St Croix du Verdon

This small village overlooks the Lac de St Croix and is best seen from the twisty road down from the hills behind.  It was an interesting drive along the mountainous road to the village which is set on the side of a steep rocky outcrop.

Looking down over the village

We parked at the aire, which overlooks the lake and is a fabulous spot for an overnight stop.  It is a short walk into the village and there is a restaurant with a large terrace overlooking the lake.  There were plenty of patrons there enjoying lunch as we wandered past.  Down on the lake, we could see plenty of activity involving children and sailing dinghys.  Altogether, a very pleasant spot to while away a few hours.

View from the aire
Some villagers have an amazing view from their garden!

Jun 18 Roussillon and Gordes

We have a book called the Official Guide to the Most Beautiful Villages of France.  As we are travelling through the various regions, we are checking for any of the villages that are close by.

After visiting Apt for the Saturday market, we backtracked a bit to visit two of the villages in the guide, Roussillon and Gordes.

Roussillon

Roussillon is also known as the flame of the Luberon.  It stands out amongst its verdant setting with a variety of ochre shades lighting up the hills around the area.

Looking across to Roussillon village

The village’s rise in fortunes from 14th century was due to silk farming and the ochre industry took over in the late 18th century.  It was developed due to a local man, Jean-Etienne Astier, who devised the idea of extracting the pigment from the sands.  Since then Roussillon has built it’s reputation on this brightly coloured mineral.

We followed the ochre trail that winds through the former quarries and were bowled over by the contrasts of shape and colour against the variety of trees and plants.

On the ochre trail
Combination of rocks and vegetation
Startling brightness
So many trees as well
Unusual sun dial

The village as also an attractive place to spend some time.  It is certainly a tourist attraction but, on our visit, it was relatively quiet.  The broad palette of ochre shades is evident on the buildings and there are several shops specialising in the artists materials and products connected with the ochre trade.

Centre of the village
Colourful house fronts
Olive press

Gordes

Gordes is described in our guide, as the Jewell of the Luberon.  It is a short journey from Roussillon, so we made it our next stop.  There is an aire just below the town which was extremely convenient for our visit.  We arrived mid afternoon and having parked up on the aire, we walked back along the road to have a proper look at the view of the town.  It had wowed us on our drive up to the town and there were several visitors on the roadside taking pictures.  The Rough Guide had advised that the best part of Gordes is the view from the road and we would agree.

View of Gordes from the road
Another roadside view

We went back in the evening to see the town lit up but, there are so many street lights, it was not as impressive as we had hoped.  The buildings alongside the road were illuminated which helped us to see where we were going and they looked very attractive in the dark.

After a peaceful night in the almost deserted car park (aire with no facilities at all), we went into the town to explore and we were a bit disappointed after the splendour of the view on the approach.  The town is perched on the foothills of the Monts de Vaucluse, facing the Luberon mountain.  The views out from the narrow streets of the village are spectacular and there are some wonderful residences with fabulous views from their terraces.

View across towards Roussillon
View out from the village
Another view out

The chateau takes a dominant position but can only be visited by arrangement so we did not get to see inside.

Chateau

We enjoyed our visit to Gordes mainly for the views of the town itself and for the sweeping views across the surrounding countryside.

The Luberon

This area of France is beautiful for the variety of landscape.  We were delighted with the views as we travelled around and particularly enchanted by the fields of lavender bordered by great swathes of poppies.

Poppies