In the spring of 2003 we set off from Nesselwang and headed about as far north west as you can travel in Europe. We had considered the Greek Islands and Romania but eventually decided on Scotland because of the lovely weather :-(
Here are the reports that we kept during our trip
We were up at three in the morning and, having packed the night before, were on our way shortly after four. Once on the motorway we realized that Max had the wrong clothes on and a little later that Rhiannon had forgotten her sandals. They were the day's two biggest problems though. 840 kilometres across Germany and Holland without a single traffic jam or similar. Even the children were well behaved!
We reached the port of Ijmuilden (which is pronounced nothing like it is written) in Holland early so drove to the beach. The children, enjoying the sun, were quickly half naked in the water. After a short paddle and an ice cream we returned to the ferry terminal and boarded the huge "Queen of Scandinavia".
While the children were sampling the Pirates Club we both had a relaxing drink after which we went for dinner. We were seated at a table looking through the huge windows at the bow of the ship and, while enjoying an "all you can eat" buffet, we enjoyed the scene as we sailed directly towards the setting sun.
A speaker announcing that it was half past seven waked us. After getting quickly dressed I went up on deck to look at the view. It had been cancelled. Through the mist there was nothing to be seen but our own ship and the driving rain.
Once again the breakfast was all you can eat so we all tanked up for the coming day.
By the time we docked the rain had turned to drizzle and then stopped completely before starting again. This continued all day with intermittent, showers and downpours.
Trying to remember to drive on the left and that 30 signs really meant 50, we drove through Newcastle and out the other side to visit Colin and pick up the tent and roof box that he had waiting for us. Unfortunately because I had forgotten about the one-hour time difference we got Colin and family out of bed. None the less they were all still friendly and between helping to fit the roof box and repack we even found time for coffee and cake. Thanks Colin!
We now set off northwards but got diverted by a steam and vintage rally. With traction engines, steam roundabouts and tractors as well as one Land Rover this turned out to be a longer stop than originally planned. At one point a steam engine passed on the neighbouring railway line and all hell broke loose as every engine on the field let fly with their whistles. Rhiannon panicked and ran round like a headless chicken until she found her Mum.
The next stop was to view a section of Hadrian''s Wall as we crossed it. It is difficult to imagine that this low tree shrouded section of wall used to be the frontier of the Roman Empire. We continued to Kielder Water where we were planning on camping. Having paid we stood around and waited for the flood to stop. And waited. Eventually we realized that the rain had no intention of stopping and so, having negotiated to camp in two weeks instead set off for Broadmeadows Youth Hostel.
Shortly after leaving the campsite we crossed into Scotland, which made four countries in two days.
The youth hostel turned out to be closed due to an earth slide so, by now tired and somewhat dispirited, we carried on to Melrose Youth Hostel. This is a lovely large house directly next to the Priory. The advantage of hostelling was immediately apparent: drying room, large kitchen to cook your own food and plenty of dry space. We were given a family room and after eating Dinner we are now all sleeping or on our way to bed.
Neill and the boys woke up early and went for a walk, leaving Alison and Rhiannon dozing. When they returned they made several good attempts at waking the girls up until finally everyone had breakfasted and after packing everything in the Land Rover, went for another walk around the town of Melrose to get some groceries. The nearby Abbey is certainly very spectacular.
At about 11am we drove eastwards to visit William Wallace''s memorial - a statue at the end of a long path through some woods overlooking hills and valleys. Family Hogarth also signed the very full visitors'' book.
We then headed north westwards to look for a campsite. The idea was to not do so much driving today and pitch our tent mid afternoon. The problem was we were now in the central valley between Edinburgh and Glasgow - an area of unemployment and no tourism. Needless to say there wasn''t a campsite to be found anywhere before Stirling, to be more precise, the only one that was marked, had closed down. Neill was also getting frantic as we couldn''t find a petrol station and Larry was thirstily showing on the red!
After a few enquiries, we found a petrol station and then of course several others after we had filled up.
It was a long drive with lots of false directions given, before we finally found the Witches Craig campsite, situated below the Ochil Hills outside Stirling, and famed for receiving the National Loo Of The Year Award. We later found out why - very clean, carpeted, flower arrangements and all accompanied by piped Scottish music - most unexpected in a campsite, but very nice! 2 sides of the campsite are fields of sheep, one the rising Ochil Hills and the fourth side, the main A91 road.
While Max and Neill put the tents up, Alison assembled the table and chairs and cooked tea and Daniel and Rhiannon played football. After we''d eaten and washed up we went for a walk along the main road to the church and back and then fell into bed. It poured with rain all night.
Our new tent stood up to its baptism of fire (water) last night. The slight dip next to the tent is now a small pond. Surprisingly after a few showers in the morning things dried up a little for the afternoon.
As we have been doing a fair bit of driving the last three days we decided to stay another night at this campsite and therefore we had a very late start eventually getting away from the campsite about eleven. We drove back to Falkirk and after following a diversion and managing to get lost found the Falkirk Wheel. This is the worlds first and only rotational canal lift and is an extremely impressive sight as it lifts boats from one canal to another in about four minutes. It was only finished last year and with its glass plated visitor centre is amazing. There was also a children''s play area so Alison and I managed a quiet cup of coffee while watching it working.
For lunch Neill had planned some fish and chips but the children were unanimous in wanting to try that traditional Scottish dish - McDonalds!
After doing the necessary shopping in Stirling we walked up to the Wallace Memorial above the town and admired the view.
Since reaching this campsite Max had been itching to walk up the mountains behind, so the children and Neill set off in pouring rain to reach the top of the crags above the campsite. It was a wet and muddy climb and when we reached our destination it was still chucking it down but it was very good fun and allowed us to photograph our campsite from the birds eye view.
Shortly after we returned to the campsite it stopped raining and the skies more or less cleared for the first time all day. We warmed ourselves up with tomato soup and now at ten o''clock are off to bed.
When we woke up it wasn''t raining and stayed that way most of the day. Yippee! Once again Rhiannon was making the most of being on holiday and had to be woken and told to get up.
After breakfasting, breaking camp and packing we were on our way for eleven. Today we wanted to camp short of Inverness so it was straight up the M9 and A9. Apart from a few stops to go to the loo and one for some shopping we drove until we saw a sign advertising a working sheep dog display. The country certainly becomes wild with huge valleys between massive rounded hills and a house every few kilometres.
The display was on a sheep farm above Aviemore. The farmer had about seven dogs working one of who didn''t want to listen today. I think our children and the Dutch tourists all thought that "Si'' darn yur Bastard" was a Gaelic expression of disgust. After rounding up a large flock and separating out a smaller group he then showed how they are sheared by hand.
After the older dogs had done their bit we moved up to watch how they are trained using ducks. Then there were puppies and lambs to be fed and cuddled by the children while the farmer answered our questions.
Lunch was a picnic in the windswept farmyard with pork pies, sausage rolls and scotch eggs.
Shortly after leaving the farm we arrived in Aviemore and went to the forestry commission campsite by Loch Morlich. This is, as you would expect from a forestry campsite, surrounded by trees and thus very sheltered from the prevailing west wind. From the campsite it is just a short walk through the trees to the lake, which means that a cloud of midges has now replaced the rain. Luckily the anti midge spray and netting on the tents seems to be holding them until now. With the trees, lake and sunny skies this is the sort of campsite I had imagined.
It is only nine o''clock but everyone is now off to bed after the succession of late nights the last few days.
We woke up at some time in the night to find it pouring down again. However by the time we got up it was varying between light drizzle and "brightening up a bit". Amazing how many words and expressions the English language has for rain.
The now well practiced breaking camp and packing up followed breakfast. We were on our way before eleven today so we must be improving. Once in Aviemore we did some serious shopping and managed to find gas cartridges for the cooker and the correct adaptor to download the digital photos into the computer. Tescos was also raided as we stocked up for the wild west of Scotland.
The next destination was Loch Ness, which we saw looking dark and forbidding through the rain. Our picnic lunch had to be eaten in the Land Rover while admiring the choppy waters.
The next stop was Cromarty on the Black Island where we had hoped to take a boat trip to look at dolphins. Unfortunately the only trip had been in the morning so we had missed that. There were photos and a video of the dolphins playing though.
Just around the corner from the dolphins was the Kings Ferry to Nigg. The crossing takes ten minutes but with sand to play on both ends we were there for a little over two hours. There is a colony of dolphins nearby but all that we found on the beach was seaweed, shells and jellyfish. The ferry can take two cars but luckily we had it to ourselves, as I can''t imagine two Land Rovers fitting on it. You drive on forwards and park on a turntable that turns your vehicle around ready to drive off at the other end. This is billed as being the smallest car ferry in the British Isles and was certainly a change from the ferry that we took five days ago.
From the northern end of the ferry it was only a forty-minute drive to the youth hostel at Carbisdale Castle. As you approach you can see the castle on a hill above you with turrets and castellations. You enter up a drive through extensive gardens until on turning a corner you are faced with the castle just in front of you. We have been given a family room in "the tower".
As a youth hostel it is certainly impressive with a statue gallery, ghosts and massive sitting rooms. Unfortunately the kitchen is isn''t that well equipped or ventilated, there are loads of people here and the dryer didn''t work after we had done lots of washing. On top of all that we couldn''t find our shampoos and Max is complaining that he is starting to get a cold so the situation wasn''t as good as it could have been. Still it is not everyone who can say that they slept in a real Scottish castle.
One of the selling points of the Carbisdale youth hostel was the breakfast in the price so at seven o''clock we all sprung out of bed to go and eat. It was nothing special but at least someone else had to do the washing up.
After leaving the castle we headed off to cross to the west of Scotland. Here even the major roads are single track and the speed is ideal for a loaded Land Rover. Our first stop was at the ruins of Ardvreck Castle on the shore of Loch Assynt. It was pouring with rain so we wrapped up in all our waterproof gear and set off across the strip of sand that joins the castle to the mainland. The thought of living at this windswept place in a cold castle with no window glass made me feel cold. No wonder so many Scots emigrated to warmer climates.
It was then only a short drive to Lochinver where we visited one of the best information offices I have ever been to. There was a list of local walks so we chose one from Stoer Lighthouse to the Old Man of Stoer. This is a stack of rock just off the coast and very impressive. The cliff walk is also enjoyable although it wouldn''t be as fun if the wind was blowing as hard off shore. We walked as far as Cirean Geardail where we had a superb view.
On the way back to the hostel we stopped off at Clachtoll where the children played on the beach and Alison stood staring at the waves. After that the boys all went to look at a Broch about 500m away. This is the remains of an impressive old fort that was originally 9 meters high.
Finally we returned to Achmelvich and a fantastic youth hostel right by the beach. The children all jumped out of the Land Rover and disappeared towards the sand while Alison and Neill unpacked. The hostel is an old school with only 36 beds and there is another family here from Australia with four children.
After an eventful late night''s sleep with Rhiannon falling out of her bunk bed and Max losing his cover several times, we got up at a respectable holiday hour of 10am. After a breakfast of porridge we went to the nearby beach and spent the rest of the day having fun, building castles, exploring rock pools and playing football. The sun shone at first and so Alison braved the cold sea and went for a swim - short but sharp! The children spent all day in their swimming things playing with the 4 children from Australia - 11 year old twins Cameron and Brendon, 8 year Alexander and 5 year old Angus. Despite the threatening clouds, it didn''t rain. They found and collected between them several sea creatures - crabs, sea stars, snails, flounder, jelly fish to name but a few. The sun shone again later so Alison went for another swim. 2 sandcastles were built and there was a competition to see which flag would be washed away first. No one was the winner as both fell pretty well the same time!
Neill got up at 4am or the crack of dawn to climb a mountain as the rest of us wanted to spend a day on the beach.
Once again Neill was up early (although not as early as yesterday) and off climbing another mountain. The rest of the family started the day with breakfast and then it was off to the beach for the day. Iain''s father organized a major castle building effort at the high tide mark. (Iain is the Scottish father of the four Australian children) The castle eventually reached the height of 1.5 meters from the bottom of the moat to the top of the walls and was marvelled at by various people.
Lunch was taken on the beach and the two families only returned to the hostel about ten o''clock for the evening meal. This week has the longest days in the year with sunset at 10:30 this far north. The children didn''t want to leave the beach while the sun was still shining so it was a late night.
After we had eaten and washed up we were all ready for our beds so that is where we went.
After two days of enjoying the beach it was time to move on. We are definitely getting better at packing and were ready and away before the Australian competition.
After a stop in Lochinver to buy pies, postcards and petrol we headed off south towards Achiltibuie. About ten minutes down the road Alison realized that we had forgotten Rhiannon''s waterproof jacket and so we had to retrace our route. Maybe this was the reason for being ready before Iain and Cathy. The second attempt was more successful.
The road from Lochinver to Achiltibuie must be the ultimate single track road. It is not only as wide as one car but also twists and turns between rocks and walls ensuring zero visibility. Luckily we didn''t meet anyone at any of the more dangerous places and survived unscathed.
At a car park by a large sandy beach that had been recommended by Alison''s brother, Neil, we stopped for our lunch and then continued to the Hydroponicum where fruit and vegetables are grown in water. Unfortunately the only way to look around was to take a one-hour tour so we looked at the pictures and then continued on our way.
The next section was a long drive via Ullapool to Kyle of Lochalsh where we took a walk around the town to stretch our legs. The big excitement was when we came across an elderly couple who had driven in to a ditch trying to avoid an oncoming lorry. Neill explained to the man that he was going to pull him out backwards and he should engage reverse and drive slowly. Unfortunately Neill forgot to mention that he should also switch his engine on so he didn''t. Never mind, a Land Rover in low ratio still has no problems even when the car is a dead weight.
In Kyle of Lochalsh it was immediately apparent that we were back in tourist country when we had to pay to use the toilets.
Once over the new (well we''ve never seen it before) Skye Bridge we followed the road south to Armadale where we are staying in the youth hostel. The view from this hostel is amazing across the Sound of Sleat to Knoydart with yachts anchored in the foreground. For the first time we don''t have a family room so the boys are sleeping with Neill and had to make their own beds.
Last night''s youth hostel was extremely clean and organised with a place for everything and everything in it''s place. The warden is a German so maybe that explains it.
Today the ferries set the speed. Only a short distance from the youth hostel was the ferry terminal for the trip from Skye back to the mainland at Mallaig. This took about half an hour.
Once in Mallaig we went to do some shopping which, with a visit to an exhibition about fishing and lunch, took about four hours. </p> <p>When we had finished in Mallaig we set off towards the Ardnamurchen Peninsula. This involved much driving on single-track roads winding between mountains and trees. The views were spectacular with something new around every corner (often another car or in one case a lorry).
We reached the ferry from Ardnamurchen to Mull about half an hour late for the 16:45 ferry and so had to wait an hour and a half for the next one. While Alison wrote postcards, Max and Neill read and the other two played.
The ferry, when it arrived was considerably smaller than the one this morning but didn''t seem a lot slower. Once we had passed the lighthouse and rounded the head we were presented with Tobermory town. It seems to be one row of houses along the harbour front, one of which is the youth hostel we are staying at. We have a room up in the roof with a view out to the harbour.
On the pier is a fish and chip shop so we treated ourselves. Delicious!
Youth hostelling is certainly turning out to be an easy way of seeing Scotland. No tents to put up, no rain or midges to worry about (it rained again last night and while we were in Mallaig). The younger generation of residents coming to bed and waking up disturb Alison but the rest of get a good sleep between kids falling out of bed.
We were woken at eight o''clock by the church clock. We had all had a good nights sleep except Alison who was kept awake until after four by the students sharing the hostel. It was absolutely chucking it down so we were glad once again not to be camping.
After a very brief shop we were ready to leave absolutely on time at quarter to ten. The drive along the coast of Mull was scenic through the windscreen wipers and the sections of single-track road ensured that it wasn''t boring. It is good that Neill, as the driver, is getting plenty of sleep because the combination of single-track roads and tiredness would be deadly.
The ferry from Craignure on Mull to Oban on the mainland was the largest Caledonian MacBrayne ferry that we have been on yet. The large observation deck allowed us to watch the rain and mist speed past. I also took a photograph of the windswept and totally empty sun deck. Alison found a bargain, buying a T-shirt onboard for only one pound fifty, probably the first bargain of the trip.
From Oban we set of south towards the Kintyre Peninsula. On the way we stopped at the museum at Kilmartin. This village is amazing with traces of settlement for thousands of years. There are standing stones, stone circles, barrows, forts and everything. In the churchyard are gravestones from the fourteenth century to the present day. The museum only cost ten pounds for the whole family and was well worth it. The fifteen minute presentation that sets the scene at the start uses 660 slides and 12 projectors. It is a masterpiece.
There was so much to see that we ended up racing for our ferry from Claonaig to the Island of Arran. The last four miles were a single-track road that fortuitously had some straight sections so we should have only missed the ferry by one minute. Luckily there was a very strong wind, which may have delayed the ferry a little, and it arrived shortly after us.
Max was very pleased that there was a decent wind so that the crossing would be a little more exciting. Thirty minutes later he was fighting with seasickness and his morbid fear of the jellyfishes that were all waiting for him when the ferry capsized. Neill meanwhile had met a bank manager from Campbeltown who knew his Uncle Archie.
Once on Arran we could take things a little more leisurely and drove around the west and south coasts to the youth hostel at Whiting Bay. Once again this is by the shore and this time we have views south to the mainland from the bedroom window.
The view last night was very good. Once it had gone dark we could see the lights on the mainland all the way up and down the coast. The schoolchildren were all in bed at 11:30pm after a lot of running around corridors and if not asleep then at least quiet a little later.
Everyone has been telling us what glorious weather it has been here in Arran and this morning it wasn''t raining either so the children played by the sea after breakfast until we were packed and ready to go.
The drive up the East coast of Arran was easy with few if any single-track roads so we were early for the ferry and Alison could do some shopping. We then caught the ferry from Brodick to Ardrossan where we found a large Tescos to finish shopping and eat our lunch in the wind swept car park.
As we were heading back to the first nights campsite at Kielder Water it was now a long drive across to the M74 and the to Kielder Forest. The only stop was at Gretna Green where we visited the largest "tourist trap" we had seen the entire holiday. Here we took the chance to purchase a few souvenirs and stretch our legs before heading off again.
Just before the Kielder Forest we crossed the border back into England at the same place that we left two weeks ago. As it wasn''t raining this time everyone got out for a group photograph.
The weather at the Kielder Water campsite was an improvement on two weeks ago and for the first time we managed to get the tents up and down in the dry. There were however very strong winds, which kept most of the midges at bay. Tonight the boys are trying the roof tent so Alison and Rhiannon have had to move "downstairs".
Today we all slept longer and woke up to sunshine. We must be out of Scotland! It was 11:30 before we were ready to leave so we had four and a half hours until we were due to report for the ferry.
We drove to look at a section of Hadrian''s Wall near Greenhead. This section is some distance long and allowed us to form an impression of the way it followed the rolling countryside making use of the natural defensive ridge. The views to the north are very impressive and must have provided a good view of what was happening in the Pictish north.
After a picnic lunch we set off towards Newcastle following an old roman road with glimpses of wall, towers, forts and towns. Unfortunately we didn''t have time to stop as the shipping time was approaching. On a whistle stop tour of Safeway''s at Hexham we stocked up on those things that are unavailable in Germany - crisps, Irn Bru, Marmite, Branston Pickle.
The drive through Newcastle was a nightmare journey with traffic jams, red lights and far too much traffic. We missed the four o''clock deadline by half an hour but luckily the man at the check in was more interested in Alison''s nice passport picture than in the time.
We had just arrived when boarding began so were soon back on our ship "Queen of Scandinavia". The cinema was running "Jungle Book 2" so while the children viewed that Alison and Neill could enjoy a relaxing drink on the sun deck. The children just found time for a swim before we all went to the Buffet Restaurant to do serious damage to their food selection. Max started with a giant plate of chips and took it from there.
The morning started with an all you could eat breakfast but unfortunately the all you can eat dinner was still making itself felt so there was less eating than could have been. No sooner were we finished than it was time to return to our vehicles, which gave a chance to view the amazing Harley Davidson motorbikes behind the Land Rover.
Once we had disembarked and filled up with petrol we reversed the 840 km journey of two weeks ago. It took just as long and was just as uninteresting as on the way north. At one point somewhere near Duisburg we took a wrong turning and ended up crossing and recrossing the Rhine unnecessarily. Lunch was taken in a shady park place by the motorway (you can tell that we have left Scotland - the sun was shining) and dinner at the McDonalds at Stuttgart Airport. We arrived home late at night and after the minimum of unpacking went to bed.
On the Sunday we heard that while we had been battling the Scottish elements the weather here in Bavaria had been beautiful the whole time.