with Steve McCarthy
It’s been an adventure already. But in a good way.
We hit Heathrow Airport about 11am, half an hour ahead of schedule. Air New Zealand is a not too horrible way to fly (about as good as it gets these days). The food was decent and they poured out free wine! Then, there was Heathrow. Proof that your gate is ALWAYS as far away from your baggage as possible. It HAD to have been a 2 mile trek. At least it got the kinks out after 9 hours in those things they call “seats” on today’s airplanes. Passport control was easy, and customs nonexistent. Then it got strange.
Trying to find the shuttle to the rent a cars was interesting. Very poorly marked. FINALLY we found it and was glad we didn’t have to negotiate the maze of parking lots, access roads, and diversions to get to the Enterprise lot. Following my own advice, we rented a Hyundai I-10 (clearly not designed for the San Berdoo Freeway). Took all of a half hour or more! Finally, about 2:30 pm, we managed to meander to the M25 and off to Carlisle.
Naturally, the 5 hour trip was a 6 hour slog, but since we had an automatic, Marianne shared the driving. She did really well navigating the wrong side of the road stuff, but on the motorways, it’s pretty easy, just a case of figuring out how to use the mirrors properly. Didn't take her long to get comfortable. Later, she’d get the chance of doing some 2 lane stuff in Scotland (which she handled perfectly).
We found the old County Hotel we’d stayed in before, and just as we checked in, John Morrison and his lovely wife Doreen appeared. It was after 8 pm and we were beat, but had set up dinner with them. Texts had gone off somewhere into the ether, but they timed it perfectly. They’d even checked out the Griffin Bar across the street (also a favorite from the last trip) and if we hurried, we’d get in a dinner order before the kitchen closed.
You might remember John, he was Our Hero in Carlisle when we had the “incident” last trip. I’ll not go into the painful details, but he bailed us out big time. Scroll back to “The Kindness of Strangers” entry for the story.
Anyway, we had a pleasant evening with them, chatting cars, road trips, and stuff. In fact, that previous weekend, John had been out and about with the local TR Gang on a drive up to Ft. William and Beyond, scooting about the backroads of Scotland! Finally back in the hotel, we passed out, trying to resynch ourselves past the jet lag.
The next morning, still a bit lagged out, we hit the road to The North. First Stop? Stirling Castle. WOW, what a place. Atop a hill with roads that would make Frisco proud (imagine a whole town of Lombard Streets with tour buses). The view of the surrounding countryside was spectacular, especially the Wallace Monument.
The castle itself has a great history, and is far more interesting than Edinburgh Castle. As the royal residence for much of its history, it was a pretty fancy place. One of the highlights was the bed chambers of Mary of Guise, wife of James V. He doted upon her and the walls were hung with one of the most famous set of tapestries in the world, “The Unicorn Hunt.” Copies hang there now, but it’s pretty impressive. We were in the midst of a school outing for what looked like 8 year olds, soaking in their history. Really cute bunch, with the usual world view of that age.
Anyway, from there we headed to the Castle Anthrax. Or Swamp Castle? Maybe it was Camelot. Actually known as Doune Castle, it is most famous to us from “Monty Python and the Holy Grail.” In fact, St. Serendipity struck again, and a nice couple asked me to take their picture. They of course had an outrageous French accent. I’m not sure they understood why I was giggling.
Finally, we left this silly place and were off to the Highlands, and Grantown on Spey, our digs for the next week. The scenery changes are remarkable.
From the more gentle rolling hills (reminiscent of California’s Central Coast area) to the rugged glens and braes of the Highlands is spectacular. May is also a great time to visit, because the wild gorse is a bloom, covering entire hillsides with bright yellow flowers. The most amazing thing to see were wild daffodils lining the roads by the thousand. We only thing of them as garden plants, and seeing them in the wild was really neat!
We got to the Ben Mohr about dinner time, had a few pints and some decent Haddock and Chips (seems the Scots prefer haddock, the English and Irish cod) and a really good local brew called Wildcat. A proper Scottish Ale.
Finally, fully knackered, we hit the bed, hopefully ready for the next adventure.