Hi everyone. This blog will be a little different to my normal posts so hopefully this will all workout OK.
As Covid-19 is still taking the world by storm and has pretty much caused a halt to a lot of international travel, Holly and I have decided to take a three-week road trip around England, Scotland and Wales this August and visit places that we’ve kept putting off due to trips abroad.
Each day, I’ll try and update this blog page. Making it a bit of a road trip diary. Hopefully you’ll all enjoy my ramblings and enjoy the beautiful sights the UK has to offer along with us.
To jump to a certain section of the blog follow the links below to the top of each day’s entry. And remember, you can follow this blog to get live updates sent to your email account as well as leave comments on posts you enjoy. Also follow us on Social Media for more pictures and information as well following this blog. Have a great summer everyone!
- Day 1 – London – Lichfield
- Day 2 – Lichfield – Stoke-on-Trent
- Day 3 – Stoke-on-Trent
- Day 4 – Stoke-on-Trent – Durham
- Day 5 – Durham – Edinburgh
- Day 6 – Edinburgh
- Day 7 – Edinburgh – Inverness
- Day 8 – Inverness – Orkney Islands
- Day 9 – Orkney Islands
- Day 10 – Orkney Islands – Loch Ness
- Day 11 – Loch Ness
- Day 12 – Loch Ness
- Day 13 – Loch Ness
- Day 14 – Loch Ness – Glasgow
- Day 15 – Glasgow – The Lake District
- Day 16 – The Lake District
- Day 17 – The Lake District
- Day 18 – The Lake District – Chester
- Day 19 – Chester – Snowdonia
- Day 20 – Snowdonia
- Day 21 – Snowdonia – The Cotswolds
- Day 22 – The Cotswolds – Bath
- Day 23 – Bath – Winchester
- Day 24 – Winchester – London
London – Lichfield
So it begins!
Setting off from home late afternoon on a blistering hot day, Holly and I were full of excitement for the three and a bit weeks of fun we have ahead of us.
The first thing that was ahead of us, however, was a three hour drive from our home in Dartford, Kent to our first stop in Lichfield, Staffordshire.
This stop was one for me really. For just over a year of my life, about seven or eight years ago now, I lived in the city of Lichfield and this was the first time Holly would get to see my former home-town.
Driving into the city was like a trip down memory lane. Spotting loads of places I used to walk, or run, was really nostalgic. As you approach this small city you can see the Cathedral with its spires standing tall in the centre, dominating the low-lying skyline. We’d be paying a visit to this site on day two.
Day one, however, was more about getting on the road and reaching our first stop. Here we’d opted for the central George Hotel as I knew it was located right in the middle of the city in a quiet part of town. The hotel itself is well presented – if a little dated – and the rooms are comfortable enough. For our one-night stay we paid just £40. Sadly the air-conditioning was switched off throughout the hotel due to Covid-19. Bit disappointing as it was a ridiculously hot day. Fortunately we were moved room to one with a window!
After settling in to our room, Holly and I took a walk around the city centre. I was pleased to see that during our walk a number of the old buildings that line the streets are still standing firm, even with their structures bowing out quite considerably given their age.
As we got into the evening, I took Holly to my favourite Thai restaurant in the city. Siam Corner MaMa Thai. Stepping inside, you can forget that you are in central England as the restaurant is beautifully presented with authentic-looking Thai decorations. And the food is still superb also.
A great end to the first day on the road.
Lichfield – Stoke-on-Trent
A fairly lazy start to the day was a welcome way to start our first full day of our holiday roadtrip. The plan for the day was to spend the morning in Lichfield before making the short 30-mile trip north to my other former home of Stoke-on-Trent; somewhere I’d spent about eight years of my life from the start of my time at university at Staffordshire University to leaving in my 20s having worked for the local city council.
After getting up, we took the short walk next door to Damn Fine Cafe. This small but stylish cafe was always too busy to eat in when I lived in the city but, this morning, we managed to get a table by the window to enjoy a good quality breakfast baguette, eggs benedict, coffee and orange juice. All for under £20 which wasn’t too bad.
After breakfast – and after checking out of The George – we had time on our hands before our timed entry to Lichfield Cathedral. During this time I took Holly for a whistle-stop tour of my former home. First on the agenda was a walk around Stowe Pool; a lovely little resevoir which plays home to numerous ducks, swans and geese.
After our stroll, a trip around the town was in order. While we had done this during the night before, this time the streets were much busier with shops and restaurants in full swing.
Next up was a trip to the beautiful Beacon Park; taking a walk past the contensious statue of Edward Smith; the captain of the fateful Titanic. I’ve never been 100% certain why Lichfield has this statue because – as far as I know anyway – the captain had no links to Lichfield; instead being born in nearby Stoke-on-Trent.
Anyway, our walk took us into Beacon Park where families enjoy playing football together, feeding the birds and having picnics. We just made the most of the sunny day and enjoyed the weather.
With time still in our favour a walk to the Close – where the Cathedral is located saw us have a quick look around the free-to-enter Erasmus Darwin House herb garden. This peaceful little retreat is a nice way to spend 15 minutes and had things been more normal, we may have gone into the house also. However, that was not to happen on this visit.
Grabbing a drink we took a seat on the grounds outside the cathedral and waited for our time slot. Lichfield is such a quiet city it’s sometimes hard to believe it has city-status.
When 1:30pm rolled around we took our place in the queue and entered Lichfield Cathedral. Any visit to Lichfield is not complete without a trip to the Three Spires; the cathedral thats appearance gives the city it’s nickname.
Two adult tickets cost us just £4 in total. For a building with this history and architectural beauty that’s a bargain. Inside, we had to follow a strict one-way system. This took us past all the main aspects of the catherdral and, given the Covid-19 restrictions in place, meant we got a great view of the entire cathedral.
After about 20 minutes inside we headed out (into the rain) and made our way back to the car. In comparison to some of the car journeys we have ahead of us, a 30-mile, 45 minute trip is a walk in the park.
Arriving in Stoke-on-Trent we again had a bit of time before our only activity of the day in the city. A short car journey around some of my former haunts – including my old flat in Shelton, old place of work in Stoke and the Trentham Estate shopping village gave Holly a flavour of what the city is like.
Our last activity of the day was at Trentham Monkey Forest; a woodland meadow that is home to 140 Barbary Macaques that are able to move freely amongst the trees – as well as the paying guest!
This was always one of my favourite places in Stoke-on-Trent. Set a few miles outside the city centre, you can forget that you are in the Midlands as these beautiful monkeys from Morocco and Algeria run around you (ignoring you for the most part) while looking after their adorable young. During our visit there were four very young monkeys – just five week’s old – clinging to their mothers as they watch and learn.
You’ll get your first glimpse of the monkeys just moments after you’ve entered the park through the turnstyles – tickets cost just £8.55 per adult if purchased online before arriving. Just down a short path you’ll come to the main area where most monkeys hang out – literally.
Top tip. Keep your eyes in the trees and enjoy walking the full length of the monkey forest. You stand a chance of seeing monkeys in the trees all over and sometimes they blend in so well it’s only when they move that you know they are there.
The only thing that was left for us to do was to check into our second hotel; The Weathervane Hotel based in Meir Park which is also conviently linked to the Hungry Horse pub and restaurant where you can enjoy a hearty meal for two purchased directly by using the pub’s app service.
Day three started with a trip to the UK’s largest indoor tropical waterpark; Waterworld.
Back when I used to live in Stoke-on-Trent, a trip to Waterworld was something to look forward to. And even with new Covid-19 rules and regulations firmly in place, the park did not disapoint.
For a cost of £20 per-person (plus £3.50 parking and £5 refundable locker deposit) a plethora of flumes and water rides welcome visitors and – since my last visit some years earlier – four new rides have been installed in what is known as Tornado Alley.
The jewel in the crown here is the UK’s first trap-door drop slide named Thunerbolt. This thrill-seekers dream will test your metal as the floor is quite literally whipped away from beneth your feet. For me, however, the best ride here is the Cyclone; a rubber-ring flume that takes riders through multiple sections of swirling fun.
As Waterworld got busier, Holly and I took our leave. We found two and half hours here was more than enough time to do everything we wanted to do (twice on some occasions).
Our next stop was at Hanley Park. Based near the University Quarter on the outskirts of Shelton, we planned to meet with a few of my old colleagues from my days at Stoke-on-Trent City Council.
Meeting at the newly opened Pavillion Cafe in the park, we were able to enjoy a hot drink and a Staffordshire Oatcake (a local delicacy) while catching up with some friends I’d not seen since leaving the city around eight years earlier!
With the afternoon sun beating down on us, Holly and I had to make a hasty exit when we realised we were in danger of being late for our last activity of the day; a trip to Trentham Gardens.
The gardens provide a peaceful place to walk around where you can admire the abundance of flowers in bloom, take a stroll around the lake and see the site of the former house on the Trentham Estate.
Entry to the gardens is priced at £12 per adult and can be purchased online prior to your visit, which I’d recommend doing.
During a visit make sure you take a walk through the stunning Italian Garens and keep your eyes open for the wire-framed fairy sculptures scattered around the estate.
After a full day of activity, all that was left for us to do was to grab something to eat. For dinner we stopped off at Blue Tiffin; a small Indian restaurant at the side of the A50 near our hotel. For a good quality meal for two with drinks we spent just shy of £40.
With stomachs full we returned to our hotel for our second of two nights sleep ready to depart Stoke-on-Trent in the morning and head north to Durham and Lumley Castle.
Stoke-on-Trent – Durham
Day four would see us departing Stoke-on-Trent early as we made our way to Lumley Castle in Durham via the Peak District. This stunning midlands region has some truely breathtaking sceanery to admire as its winding roads take you through hills and farmland.
The first stop on-route was at the Pooles Cavern; near the quiet town of Buxton. This beautiful cave formation has loads of amazing chambers full of stalagtites and stalagmites all of which have formed of centuries.
The tour at the caverns take about 45 minutes – and costs £11 per adult – to do and our guide – who spoke very quickly but with real passion – was full of intersting information about the caves and made the time go very quickly.
We then made a passing visit to Buxton town centre – a wonderful little town that justifies a far longer stay – as we made our way to the village of Eyam.
This village has a dark, yet noble, history. At the time of the Black Death – something all of us going through Covid-19 can sympathise with greatly now – the plague arrived in Eyam in 1665.
As the disease spread, the villagers turned for leadership to their rector, the Reverend William Mompesson, and the ejected Puritan minister Thomas Stanley. They introduced a number of precautions to slow the spread of the illness from May 1666. The measures included the arrangement that families were to bury their own dead and relocation of church services to the natural amphitheatre of Cucklett Delph, allowing villagers to separate themselves and so reducing the risk of infection. Perhaps the best-known decision was to quarantine the entire village to prevent further spread of the disease.
Such a sacrifice is hard to imagine and – considering the era it happened it – perhaps more should be made to highlight what a brave act this was. If you are in the Derbyshire area at any point make sure you stop by Eyam as it’s an interesting – and free – place to visit.
After grabbing a bite to eat (panni for Holly and a sausage and black pudding cob for me) from a cafe in Eyam we hit the road. A two-and-a-half hour drive up the M1 and A1(M) awaited us that also took us through the less-than delightful Sheffield area. Nothing against Sheffield per-say, just the ring-road that we were navigated around was horrible to traverse. Anyway, we made it out in one piece and arrived at the incredible Lumley Castle just before 3pm.
Upon arrival we were told that our room was still being prepared so we went for a mojito in the Library Bar. This quiet bar is a great place to unwind after a long drive.
Lumley Castle is more than just a beautful castle and hotel. It is also home to Escape Rooms Durham‘s own Lumley Castle-themed escape room; The Lilly of Lumley.
First thing to say here is that our host was amazing and really went the extra mile to help us and make our time in the escape room extra special. The room itself is complex and has may interesting features that make for a rewarding game.
I won’t spoil the game by giving away its secrets, but will say that it is a logical one and for those who have played escape rooms before you should find it challenging, yet winnable. We finished the room in exactly 50 minutes which I take as a good time.
Having won our game, we then checked into our room. We had originally booked into a standard castle room (for £79 per-night). However, what Holly didn’t know was that I’d already upgraded us to the best room in the hotel for an extra £100; the King James Suite!
When you enter the room you walk into an open living space, but with comfortable chairs, a widescreen TV and open fireplace. Just off here there is a seperate bedroom; complete with a huge four-poster bed that you need stairs to climb just to get into!
Elsewhere, there is also a side door off the living space that takes you to a small bathroom; fitted out with a jacuzzi bath. Next to this is a corridor that takes you to a washroom.
The day was complete with a meal at Lumley Castle’s prestigious eating establishment; Knights Restaurant. Fine food and copious amounts of wine were the order of the day and rounded off a truely memorable fourth day of our epic UK roadtrip adventure.
Durham – Edinburgh
After a wonderful night at Lumley Castle (I cannot explain quite how amazing it is to wake up on a four-poster bed in a castle bedroom!) we enjoyed a leisurely breakfast at Knights Restaurant that I’d pre-booked for the sum of £14.50 per person.
We then made our way (very slowly) out of the castle. It’s rarley been harder to leave a hotel than it was to leave Lumley Castle. It was superb from start to finish and did everything it promised and more during our short stay. We will 100% visit here again in the future.
The day ahead was relatively clear. Basically we had to leave England and make our way to Edinburgh; the capital city of Scotland some 128 miles and two-and-a-half hours away.
However, there was no point wasting the day just driving. So first we decided to actually head a short distance south a take a trip to the English Heritage site of Finchale Priory.
The Priory was founded back in 1196 on the site of the hermitge of St. Godric; a retired sailor and merchant who settled at the site after a life of adventure and travel. It also acted as a holiday-home of sorts for the monks of Durham until 1538.
Today the Priory lies in ruins but is open to visitors to walk around and explore. For just a £3 parking fee we were able to spend a good half-hour at the site and see everything it had to offer.
It was then time to get back on the road and actually head north towards the Scottish border. Before we would get that far though we couldn’t come to the area and not make a stop at the famous Angel of the North statue.
The statue is said to be seen by the equivalent of one person every second of the day and holds a prime spot on the panoramic hilltop along the A1 route.
A short stop here was all it takes. A few photos later – as well as a roadside hot chocolate to boot – and we were back on the road.
The journey north should have been a really nice one. The route from Durham to Edinburgh promises beautiful views of the countryside and the sea on a nice day as you drive along the coastal route. Today, however, the weather was not on our side. From the moment we left Lumley Castle the heavens opened and torrential rain came crashing down. Bad times!
As the rain continued, we made our progress to the English and Scottish border where we made a stop to grab another couple of pictures of us with the border signs.
Once over the border we finally made it to Edinburgh just before 4pm. Our accomodation in Edinburgh for two-nights is the Britannia Edinburgh Hotel; costing us £138 in total.
Now my initial reaction to this hotel wasn’t great if I’m honest. Firstly you have to pay for parking at £5 a day to park it in the hotel’s car park. To pay this you either do it by phone or using £1 coins in the pay-and-display machine. Sadly the hotel isn’t that helpful with this and if you don’t have exactly five £1 coins on you they don’t seem to want to give them to you in exchancge for a £5 note. Rather silly if you ask me.
The rooms are also extremley basic. Fit with a double bed and a basic TV and shower. To make matters worse, the current situation with Covid-19 has meant they are not cleaning rooms during stays and only do so after you’ve left. This dispite other hotels still being able to offer a cleaning service.
Maybe I was spoilt by Lumley Castle’s opulence. But I wasn’t expecting anything to that standard. Not by a long way. But I was still expecting a bit more for our money. Anyway, moan over.
With it still raining rather heavily we did take a first walk into the city centre of Edinburgh. We made our way along the road next to Edinburgh Castle – just to see it at this point – and took a walk down the famous Royal Mile to find a pub where we could get some food and give Holly her first ever taste of haggis!
With stomachs full of haggis (and burger and chips) the torrential rain became too much to handle and an Uber ride back to the hotel was in order to get dry and rest-up ahead of our full day in the Scottish city tomorrow.
After a night at our hotel (my opinion of it has not improved a the shower pressure is really bad making showering almost impossible) we set out for a full day exploring Edinburgh.
Today was our first day of serious walking. We’d walked around some of the other places we’d visited so far but always had the car nearby to jump in. Here, I was determined to leave the car at the hotel as the prospect of driving around Edinburgh really didn’t appeal.
Our first step was to walk to Arthur’s Seat; an extinct volcano on the edge of the city. With time not on our side we were only viewing it from the foot of the hill but its imposing size is an impressive sight in itself.
After a flying visit to Arthur’s Seat, we made our way back to the city centre where we were meeting up with a free walking tour of the Edinburgh Old Town. This tour was organised by the superb City Explorers who run tours in both English and Spanish.
Picking up the tour from the Royal Mile, three different tours run across three time slots every day. Our tour – the tour of the Old Town – leaves at 11am and was a very entertaining way to spend a couple of hours.
Our tour guide was full of energy and always quick with a story or two about the things we were seeing in the city. Stories were a mix of truthful and legendary but always entertaining.
Now while it is a ‘free tour’ it’s not really free (well it is, but only if you are a bit too tight with your money). At the end of the two hour tour your guide will be accepting tips (both cash and card) and – as a guide – around £5 per person is reasonable although you can give more or less as you see fit.
We had a couple of hours on our hands before we were due to visit one of Edinburgh’s main tourist attractions; Edinburgh Castle – so we made our way, on foot, to the Royal Botanical Gardens Edinburgh for a look around.
What we hadn’t appriciated was that the Garden’s were a good 30 to 40 minute walk away from where we had finished the walking tour and – given we only had two hours between the tour and our entry to the castle – time was going to be rather pushed.
By the time we were inside the Gardens we had just enough time to grab a quick bite to eat, use the toilet and look at a couple of plants. To make matters worse, the heavens had truely opened and the rain was relentlessly streaming down on us. Fortunatley, the entry is totally free so we didn’t feel like we’d missed out too much although the gardens do look stunning if you have time to give them a proper viewing.
With the rain still coming down hard, we jumped into an Uber and made our way back to Edinburgh city centre and to the castle.
For £15.50 per adult, we got access to the castle and, if I’m being totally honest, found it slightly disapointing.
For me, if you are visiting a castle anywhere in the world you expect it to hold onto some of the original charm from when it was first used as a castle. Here, the castle sits very impressively atop the hill but, once inside, some of its charm is lost and replaced with relics from more modern warfare.
Maybe it was the rain and our inability to see the stunning views that would be on offer to visitors on a sunny day, but the castle just didn’t do anything for me. That’s not to say I’m not glad I went. I am. I was just perhaps hoping for more.
By the time we had decended Castle Hill the rain was slightly easing up and we made our way to a pub on the Royal Mile to grab a much needed drink. Soon after we decided to find somewhere to eat and we opted for the well reviewed Makars Gourmet Mash Bar Company. And what a choice this was!
A delicious meal of haggis, sausage and mash was such a welcome respite from the chilling wind and rain. To make it an even better experience, a couple of pints of the Scottish Guinness substitute; Belhaven were sunk as was my first glass of Monkey Shoulder, Scottish whisky. All this and two glasses of wine for Holly for under £40 (given the government subsidies taking place right now for Covid-19). Absolute perfection.
Edinburgh – Inverness
An early start to the day – not just so we could leave that pretty awful hotel that we’d just spent the past two nights (seriously it’s one of the worst I’ve ever stayed at in my humble opinion) – but also so we could do a morning climb of Arthur’s Seat.
A slow drive (not because of traffic, more that all roads in Edinburgh appear to be 20mph) got us to the car park at the foot of the hillside. After paying for a couple of hours in the car park we made our way to the hillside to begin the incline. Boy was it worth it!
After a tough 30 minute climb we found our way to the top of the hill. The views from here were amazing. Having been rained on for most of our time in Edinburgh, someone was clearly smiling on us today as the skies were a beautiful blue and visability was superb. If you have time in Edinburgh and the weather is on your side then make your way here as you’ll get a far supieror view of the city than you’ll get from anywhere else.
After grabbing all our photos and making our way back down to the car we had the prospect of another three-hour drive north to Inverness ahead of us.
Having looked at the route we decided we wanted to make the most of the journey. To do this we took the scenic route down through the stunning Cairngorms National Park.
If you haven’t been to the Cairngorms then you cannot understand just how amazing they are. You are surrounded by 360 degree scenes of mountains and hills, interspersed with flowing rivers and waterfalls! It’s just beautiful!
During the drive we made numerous stops by the side of the road just to take a few snaps. It’s so easy to do as there are so few cars on the roads.
One such stop we made (albeit a childish one) was at the Aberdeenshire village of Cockbridge! Let’s be clear there is nothing there. Just a bridge with a plague saying “Cockbridge”. There isn’t even a street sign anymore. Not sure why but the street sign has been removed which is a great shame.
Moving on, we drove a further hour down the road to go to two Outlander-themed locations. If you’ve not seen the TV show it basically follows the story of an adulterous English woman who goes back in time (accidentally) by touching a cairn in Scotland and starting a relationship with a Scottish Highlander named Jamie.
The first of these visits was to the Clava Cairns; a series of four cairns and a number of stone circles in the Scottish hillside that you can walk around and enter for free!
The Clava Cairns are about 4,000 years old and were built to house the dead. What remains today would have once been part of a larger complex. Two parts of the complex, Balnuaran of Clava and Milton of Clava, are open to the public.
The second stop was at the Culloden Battlefield. The site of one of the most famous battles from the 1700s and saw the Government forces of the English and the Scottish clans go to war. The battle was very one-sided and resulted in a resounding defeat for the clans.
Today, visitors can pay a couple of pounds to park and then walk around the battlefield which is now presented as a war grave memorial. The National Trust for Scotland are also using cattle on the battlefield to keep it maintained and to try and return it to the state it was in at the time of the battle.
Regarding the prices, we found that if you just want to see the actual battlefield then you can do so for the price of the car park. This is the option we took. If, however, you want to go in the museum while you are there then I think that will cost you an extra £11 per adult. For me, the battlefield is the main star of the show!
After a full day of driving, walking and climbing, we made the short hop into Inverness and checked into our £75 a night B&B called Braehead Guest House.
We were met by our friendly host – and beautiful pet dog – outside the house and shown to our room. While it was basic in terms of ammenities it had heart and was very clean. We were told all we needed to know about the room – and about breakfast in the morning – and were left to settle in, in peace before going into Inverness to grab some food from a nearby pub.
Inverness – Orkney Islands
Day eight was another early start and a wonderful cooked breakfast at our B&B. Our host – and dog – made for great breakfast companions and gave us a hearty breakfast to set us up for the day on. After this, we packed up, paid and said our goodbyes. If I was in Inverness again, I certainly would stay at Braehead Guest House again.
After making our way out of Inverness we went to see if we could see any of dolphins that sometimes frequent the waters of the area over at the Menkinch Local Nature Reserve.
This wetlands made up of fresh water canals and the open salt waters of the sea but sadly, on this occasion, we’d timed it poorly and the tides were out. It meant that while there were no dolphins visable, we did get to see plenty of birds.
After about an hour taking a relaxing stroll, we made our way back to the car and set about starting our route up the north-east coast to John o’ Groats and, eventually, Orkney.
It just so happens that Inverness is also the starting point of one of the world’s most famous driving routes; the North Coast 500. This route does a lap around the northern part of Scotland and we were able to do a good chunk of this route on our way up to the tip of the country.
But to make the most of this route, you need to stop along the route. Our first, impromptu, stop was the gorgeous Dunrobin Castle.
Described as the jewell in the crown of the Highlands, this castle is set to the backdrop of the sea and also boasts a stunning garden where we were able to enjoy a falconry show.
For just £11 entry per adult this proved to be a great way to spend just over an hour and grab some photos for the memory banks.
Our route took in two other smaller (free) stops also. The first at a place called the Hill o’ Many Stanes (or stones). This hidden-away historic site remains a bit of mystery but is interesting to see. In a small field a series of medium sized stones have been lined up into multiple rows (22 in total) for an unknown reason. It’s thought these could date back as far as the Bronze Age and may have been a way of remembering family members lost over time.
Further up the road in the town of Wick we made our final stop before John o’ Groats at the Old Castle of Wick.
This place was a strange one to find. Our sat-nav guided us down through what looks like a busy housing estate – the last place you’d expect to find an ancient castle ruin. However, we stayed with the route and it eventually took us to a dead end near a field which was signposted with the castle some 800m in the distance.
The castle itself is no more than a shell of a single tower sat on the cliff edge. What makes this place worth visiting are the views you get over the cliffs and out to sea.
While these interludes were interesting to see, the main thrust of my day was to see a very famous signpost marking one of the two furthest points on the UK mainland from each other; the John o’ Groats signpost.
Completing the drive to John o’ Groats felt something of an accomplishment. Starting out just over a week ago in Kent we would find ourselves as far north on the UK mainland as we could. It’s fair to say the moment brought a big smile to my face.
Again for just the price of parking (just £2 for the entire day) you get to see this British landmark in the flesh. For some it may be only a signpost, to others it marks something more. A journey just starting or one completed.
With more pictures in the bank, we grabbed a bite to eat in a nearby hotel restaurant and made our way to the Pentland Ferries terminal at Gill’s Bay for our 6.30pm crossing to St. Margaret’s Hope on Orkney Islands. The ferry takes about an hour to cross and allows you to take your car from the mainland to use while you are over on Orkney.
There are a couple of options to get to Orkney (inlcuding Orkney Ferries) but we took the Pentland Ferries route as it was both the most cost effective and quickest. Even still a return trip for two people (with a car) set us back £140! However, if you travel with Orkney Ferries (which docks in Stromness on the Orkney Islands) you can expect to pay over £200 for the same thing! Not only will it cost you more money, but it will also take an extra 30 minutes to sail there!
Our journey over went smoothly (if a bit wetly) and we disembarked just minutes after docking. We then made the 45 minute drive to our accomodation; the Lindisfarne Bed & Breakfast in Stromness. This lovely B&B cost us £178 for two nights and it’s fair to say I had high hopes for this place!
When we arrived just before 9pm we were met by the extremley friendly host who gave us a quick guide of our room and told us about the breakfast arrangements for the morning. Once we were settled into our room we took the opportunity to rest-up after yet another busy day on the road.
First thing to say is the Lindisfarne Bed & Breakfast is a superb place to stay! Nothing was too much hastle for our host who was very attentive to our wants and needs.
After getting ourselves ready we made our way down to the breakfast room for 8am. The room was spacious and has the most stunning view out over the fields, water and mountains. You really can’t ask for more while tucking into your black pudding, haggis, sausage, egg and bacon.
For the day ahead we planned to drive around the island stopping off at various places. The big issue here was that a lot of Orkney has remained closed due to Covid-19. However, as we were to find out, this would not hold us back much.
Our first stop was Skara Brea; a 5,000 year old neolithic settlement. First uncovered by a storm in 1850, Skara Brae showcases a recreated house and full interior, showing how it might have looked. Then, following the path down, visitors can see what remains today of the the prehistoric houses.
When we pulled up in the visitor centre car-park we noticed that we were the only ones there! At this point Skara Brea has not yet reopened to the public. However, it doesn’t mean you will have wasted your trip. You can go around the full perimeter of the site (without going into it) and lean over the fence to see it from about five or six feet away.
Had it been open we’d have paid our £7 entry each and explored further, but we were glad to have seen some of it, had the area totally to ourselves and not paid a penny for the pleasure.
From there we made the short 10 minute drive to Birsay to view the ruined remains of the Birsay Earl’s Palace.
The palace was built between 1569 and 1574, and its life was a short one. Its story effectively ended with the overthrow of the Stewart earls in 1615 and by 1700 the palace was roofless and decaying.
Today the palace is a small, free, visitor attraction that is worth a quick 20 minute visit. If you – like us – get lucky, you’ll get the whole site to yourself, giving you ample space and time to enjoy all it has to offer.
Now our next stop was one that was nothing more than a bit of childish adolescence. Our stop was in the small villiage of Twatt!
Initially we drove to the centre of Twatt (stop smirking) but there was no signpost to be seen. So we made our way out checking out every signpost we passed. Finally we found one directing traffic to Twatt and took the opportunity to grab a photo. Right, childish antics aside (for now) we could get back to some serious travels.
Back on the road we pulled into our next landmark; The Ring of Brodgar.
Yet another free site, the Ring of Brodgar Walk meant we could walk among one of the most spectacular prehistoric monuments in the British Isles. Similar to Stonehenge – although here you can get right-up close and personal to the stones – the Ring of Brodgar Stone Circle and Henge is an enormous ceremonial site dating back to the third millennium BC.
It’s a fascinating site. There is plenty to look at and admire and again, if you’re lucky, you’ll not have to fight through the crowds you get if you visit the similar Stonehenge in England.
A couple of minutes down the road, we parked up and went to the Standing Stone of Stenness. Yet another free site, the Standing Stones of Stenness consist of four upright stones in a circle that originally held 12 stones. The focus of the interior was a large hearth. Origianlly, the stones were encircled by a large ditch and bank, the form of which has been lost over time by ploughing.
The field is now shared with a herd of sheep who do keep themselves to themselves but do add a nice little photo opportunity to the visit.
Our penultimate stop was at another site that was advertised online as being closed due to Covid-19. Still we went hoping we could at least see something. The Cuween Hill Chambered Cairn is an ancient burial site dating back to over 5,000 years ago.
The site attests to a belief in an afterlife and in its evocative gloom it’s easy to conjure up images of burial rites and rituals taking place.
Pulling down a small, tight lane, we parked up with the other two cars in attendance and made our way up the hill to the Cairn. While the entry to the Cairn was locked off (as we’d expected) you could still see the remaining area of the site for free and got some of the best views we’d seen since arriving on Orkney. Seriously, the views from the top of the hill were worth the climb alone!
The final trip of the day took us along to Scapa Beach. This short stretch of sandy shoreline was a great way to unwind and take in the wonderful views Orkney has to offer.
To one end of the beach there is a small waterfall that we couldn’t reach as the tide was in. If I had to be picky about this beach – which if it was anywhere else in the UK would be crowded from sunrise to sunset – was that the view was slighty (only slightly) spoiled by the oil rigs you can see in the distance. Not that they can do anything about this, it just takes something away from the natural charm of Island life.
After spending a few hours relaxing back at the B&B, we had an evening meal booked for 7:30pm at the Kirkwall Hotel based in its namesake town down on Harbour Street.
A small but well thoughtout, affordable, menu awaited us and the food was of good quality also making for an enjoyable final evening on the Orkney Isles, before heading back to the mainland in the morning.
Orkney Islands – Loch Ness
Today marked our last day in Orkney and it’s fair to say we were both sad to be leaving. The Island made a real impression on us over the past couple of days with its hospitable welcome and ts interesting and beautiful sights.
Perhaps one of the biggest things we’d miss was the accommodation and the hearty breakfasts that had welcomed us each morning. Waking up at Lindisfarne Bed and Breakfast to those stunning views across the fields will live long in the memory.
The day ahead was one mostly about travel. We had a morning ferry – again with Pentland Ferries – to catch from St. Margaret’s Hope to take us back to mainland Scotland. After packing up our things we set off from the B&B. As we left, we realised that this was the (slow) start of the way home as we’d not be any further north than this during our trip.
As we had time on our hands in the morning we took the scenic route back to the ferry terminal which meant I finally got a photo or two up close with a Highland cow! This felt a bit of a landmark moment as I’d wanted to do this while we were in the Highlands but whenever we saw them, they were always standing in the middle of a field, miles away from where I was standing.
However, on this occasion, there were a group of them next to a fence by the road. Perfect for a quick snap or two.
Arriving at the ferry terminal very early gave us time to relax for a bit while we waited to board our boat. As the day was nice it also meant that during the journey, we’d actually be able to see the sights around us rather than the dark clouds and rain that we’d had on the way out.
Back on the mainland we started the three-hour drive south to Loch Ness. The journey took us back along much of the route we took north from Inverness. Again, it was spectacular to see.
We made a stop along the route in a small town called Dornoch and grabbed some lunch. The town was small but very picturesque. The pub we stopped in also made us a couple of sandwiches – despite them not being on the menu – which helped us along the way.
From here we made the relatively short hop towards Loch Ness. The first thing we noticed as we approached from the north was the amazing scenery. Mountain backdrops full of bright green trees framed the Loch perfectly. It also may sound obvious, by Loch Ness itself was so much bigger than I was expecting it to be. I mean, I was expecting it to be big; but damn, it’s huge!
Our only stop for the day here was at Invermoriston Falls. Based on the west side of the Loch, the waterfall is with a small wooded area and is really pretty. There is a small summer house just downstream of the waterfall and this makes for the perfect spot to get some photos of the waterfall.
As an aside, there is a small, free, car park just five minutes away from the falls.
With the evening drawing on, we checked into our accommodation; the Loch Ness Guest House in Fort Augustus. The Guest House is located close to the south end of Loch Ness and from the outside looks like a nice mix of an old and new building. Due to Covid-19 we checked into our room without seeing a single person. The room was small but perfectly good. There is a good bathroom with shower and a comfortable double bed.
As it’s a guest house – not a hotel – there was also a communal kitchen where you can make hot drinks, get small snacks and a few breakfast cereals.
Our accomodation cost us £252 for four nights – or £63 a night – which given the popularity of Loch Ness represents good value for money. However, as we arrived I noticed a sign saying the current prices were £100 a night for the same double room we were in. I’m glad we booked when we did!
After settling into our room we went for a quick bit of dinner at a local restaurant before heading back to the hotel room for a well deserved sleep.
After a great first night’s sleep at the Loch Ness Guest House we eased ourselves up in the morning ahead of our first full day in the region.
The guest house was extremely quiet and meant that we both got a really good night’s sleep. Also the shower facilities in the room were very good and this was probably the best wash we’d had since getting to Scotland as the shower actually had some force behind it (unlike that pitiful effort in our Edinburgh accommodation). For the first time in days I actually felt clean!
The morning was to start with a trip to Urquhart Castle. While the castle lay in ruins today, it’s location just to the side of the loch means it remains a must-see for any visitors coming to the area.
The castle was once one of Scotland’s largest and over the centuries has seen numerous conflicts fought for its ownership. Control passed back and forth between the Scots and the English during the Wars of Independence and continued as the Lords of the Isles regularly raided both castle and glen up until the 1500s
As with most attractions at the moment we had to buy our tickets online in advance and for a set time-slot. Tickets cost £9.60 per adult. If you arrive by car you also need to reserve a parking space but this is free to do and can be done at the same time as the entrance ticket purchase.
Arriving early (we always do) we had a about 20 minutes to kill before our 9:30am entry (which is also the castle’s opening time at this time of year). It meant that we were first in the queue to enter and allowed us a few moments in the castle grounds to get some photos without anyone else being in them. Bonus!
The castle alone is an impressive sight, but with the backdrop of the Loch on a sunny day, it is something very special. Add to that – due to Covid-19 – fewer people were being given tickets to enter each day (we were told that on a usual day 5,000 people would visit, but at the moment that number is restricted to 300-400) making the whole experience feel unique and rather exclusive. My thinking is that we may as well take as many positives out of this weird time as we can!
After spending a couple of hours here taking in all the views, we reluctantly, decided to move one (after making a couple of purchases in the shop and buy a sandwich and cake to take with us for a picnic lunch.
Our plan for the afternoon was to make the 50-minute drive up around the south-end of Loch Ness to reach the Falls of Foyers waterfall.
This secluded waterfall (which is free to view and also has ample free parking nearby) is a popular destination for tourists; even in these Covid-19 times.
A well-maintained path leads you steeply down the forested slopes to a viewpoint overlooking the Falls. The waterfall is a spectacular 140 feet of crashing water down the rock face from the River Foyers into the gorge leading to Loch Ness.
After viewing the falls from the upper viewpoint, we made our way down to the lower viewpoint to get the full waterfall experience.
There is also a beautiful forest to explore but, before we set off, we made our way back up to the higher ground, found a nice bench and enjoyed our sandwiches and cake with the waterfall flowing in the background.
Our plan after this was to take the 1.6 mile forest walk. We started well and it brought us out onto a street. Slightly confused as to where to go, we found another family doing the same thing and, from a safe distance, joined them for the walk. Five minutes later, however, the walk was over!
Fear not, this wasn’t due to injury, it was just the bridge you have to cross to continue the walk was shut off as it clearly had seen better days.
We said our goodbyes to our short-lived walking companions and made our way – through the backstreets – back to the car.
With the afternoon drawing on, we made started driving back to the guest house. On route we made a couple of stops to take in the views of Loch Ness. Top tip here, make as many stops as you can as the views just get better and better the higher up you go along the road running parallel with the Loch.
Another great thing about travelling around Loch Ness, for the natural sights at least, is that they are all free of charge. For travellers on a budget, this is a great way to enjoy fulfilling days at next to no cost.
Our evening plans were not set in stone, and we were hoping to grab some light food somewhere nearby our accomodation.
We set out and found a local restaurant – there are a few to choose from in Fort Augustus – to eat in while enjoying the beautiful weather over some good food and drink.
A 5am alarm got us up nice and early for day 12 of our trip (and the half-way point) as we tried to get a look at the sun rising over Loch Ness. Despite us being up and ready, somebody forgot to inform the weather about our plans. So instead of watching the sunrise beautifully over a peaceful Loch Ness, we got the rain falling heavily over a windy Loch. Not ideal, so back to bed we went.
A couple of hours later we were back up and ready to have a second start to our day. The had earmarked this day as being the one we would spend on the Isle of Skye and despite the BBC advertising a full day of rain ahead, it would prove to be mostly clear and dry.
Setting off from our guest house, the Isle of Skye is an hour’s drive away and for our first stop was at the famous Eilean Donan Castle.
The castle is recognised as one of the most iconic images of Scotland. Situated on an island at the point where three sea lochs meet, the castle is surrounded by some of the most impressive scenery Scotland has to offer.
You may think you’d seen this castle before, and chances are you will have done. Eilean Donan has appeared in numerous TV shows and films (including one James Bond) and is as glorious in real life as it is on the big screen.
As with everything at the moment, booking tickets in advance is a must and for the £10 per adult you can cross its beautiful bridge and take a look inside its walls.
When we arrived the weather had not improved from our morning disappointment and so we got a little bit wet on our approach to the castle. Fortunately, however, most of the castle’s attractions are inside so you can get in the dry quickly and easily.
The only down side of the poor weather is that it can obstruct your views of the lochs. While we didn’t want to hang around much outside, we still got a nice selection of photos to enjoy.
Moving on, we made the drive further into Skye. And fortune appeared to be on our side. The further in we got, the more the weather improved. Mountains previously obscured by mist and cloud came into sight and we found ourselves in an idyllic setting.
After making our way down the winding roads we came to our second destination of the day; the Fairy Pools.
Having seen these majestic pools online before we’d set off, we were keen to see them for ourselves.
Free to visit at any time of year, the pools are located near the village of Carbost in Glenbrittle. The Fairy Pools are rock pools of crystal-clear spring water formed from a series of waterfalls that originate from the many tributaries of the nearby River Brittle.
There are a few things I’d advise ahead of a visit here that I wish we had known. Firstly, the pools are a pretty long walk from the car park (which costs £5 to park in) Give yourself at least 30 minutes to walk the distance to the main pools and the same again back.
The second thing is that, currently, there are no toilet facilities there. Go before you set out or be prepared to try and find a bush nearby.
Finally, dress appropriately. It’s not just about the weather you have to prepare for. It’s the local wildlife also. There are millions of Highland Midges here and they are relentless in their biting! Within minutes of us being at the Fairy Pools, Holly and I were surrounded by these little pests. Bring something to cover your arms and legs and – if you have it – a bug net for your head. Also wear as much bug repellent as you can stomach. Thank me for that tip later.
For me the midges really spoilt these wonderful pools. The area is stunning but with the constant flow of midges we couldn’t relax. Another thing to mention is that you can take a dip in the waters too if you wish (again we didn’t as we didn’t have our swimwear with us) but many people were braving the cold waters.
After our insect ordeal we made our way further into Skye. One thing that the area seems to have done well for itself is market a number of its natural formations with catchy names. It seems that if you just have a rock or a waterfall without a name, tourists are less interested in it. However, give it a gimmick and a cool name and you’ve got yourself an instant tourist attraction and paid-for cark parking opportunity.
None of the above is a criticism from me. Far from it. If anything, it helps those of use looking for things to see to know where to go. With that in mind we set off for the impressive rock formation; The Old Man of Storr. The Storr is an example of the Trotternish landslip and stands today at a height of 719m.
Parking at the foot of the hill for £3, we set off up the steep pathway to get a closer glimpse of the rocks. If you want to do the full path available it will take about 45 minutes each way. With time not on our side, we made it up about halfway and found a great spot to grab some photos before heading back down. To be honest, if you get to a good viewpoint there appears to be little point continuing up the hill as you’ll only be seeing the same thing from a slightly different angle.
Our final stop in Skye was just 15 minutes further up the road and this was at the Kilt Rock viewing platform. This site is free to visit and has two main parts. To the left you have the Mealt Waterfall which is fed by the nearby Mealt Loch. The second to the right is 90m Kilt Rock which is said to look like a pleated kilt. If you squint hard enough you can just about see what they mean.
With the day complete we started the two-hour drive back to Loch Ness and said goodbye to the stunning Isle of Skye which deserves a much longer visit in the future.
Loch Ness – Glasgow
Glasgow – Lake District
The Lake District
The Lake District
The Lake District – Chester
Chester – Snowdonia
Snowdonia – The Cotswolds
The Cotswolds – Bath
Bath – Winchester
Winchester – London