The last day of the road trip would take us to Hull to catch the return Ferry
So that was it then, almost the end of the Scottish tour. Our last real Scottish breakfast at the Abercorn Guesthouse was as good as we had come to expect and afterwards we settled the bill and waved goodbye to Angela (Willie was at his work). We were heading for Hull to catch the return ferry but as we didn’t feel like driving behind all the commercial traffic on the A1 down through Newcastle we took the A68 through Lauder, Jedburgh, Corbridge to rejoin the A1M at Darlington.
At Jedburgh we took a break to get a coffee and look round the old town. Jedburgh is known for the ruins of it’s 12 century Abbey.
South of Jedburgh we passed through the Northumberland and Kielder National Parks region which is almost as good as driving in Scotland. In places the road takes on a switchback character and Elly was complaining that her stomach was in her mouth at the crest of every rise in the road. As we got closer to Darlington the road tends to lose it’s open, rural character and the towns and villages seem to be closer together.
Back on the A1M it’s too crowded to give the Beamer it’s head and it’s just a question of following the traffic especially through the major roadworks taking place. We stopped once to fuel up and get some refreshments but all in all it was an uninspiring drive. Just before reaching Hull we stopped at Goole to call at a Tesco supermarket for some shopping (things we can’t get in Holland).
After that it was a short drive to the ferry terminal which we reached at about five o’clock. They had already started boarding so we were on board within minutes of arriving. Once on board and checked in we dumped the case in the cabin and took a walk round the ship. On inspecting the self-service restaurant, which was included in our booking, we decided to pay the extra for the ‘a la carte’ restaurant and booked a table for around seven. This didn’t disappoint with good good food, wine and service. The ‘a la carte’ breakfast the following morning was also included in this change. Here are a couple of photo’s on the ship.
After leaving the ship the following morning it was a real shock to be driving in the madness of the A15 round Rotterdam in the morning rush hour traffic. After more than a week in the relative peace of the the Northern British Isles I had forgotten how crazy the drivers can be. If you visit the Netherlands, beware!
Day 7 would end at the Abercorn Guest House in Portobello, Edinburgh.
After the usual breakfast we had decided to take a more interesting route to Edinburgh than straight back through Glasgow and the motorway. So we set off straight north on the A819 to meet the A85 at the top of Loch Awe. Not a great distance, 23 km, but a great piece of road and never saw another car.
On the A85 we drove west until we met the A82 near Tyndrum where we pulled in at The Green Welly Stop to fill up and get a coffee. The Green Welly is an extremely popular place with bikers and this being a Sunday it was pretty busy. Having owned bikes in the past and knowing how good the roads were in the beamer, it must be fabulous to ride a quick bike up here. Not without it’s dangers, however, for the inexperienced rider. I’m not surprised that they’ve put speed camera’s everywhere.
We followed the A82 till we reached Crianlarich but the traffic was pretty heavy, a lot of which turned south with the A82 while we headed east on the A85 again. Traffic was still not what you’d call light, however, and we followed a line of caravans, campers, vans and other ‘steady’ drivers for quite some distance. The beamer is not that much fun to drive in this sort of traffic as I’m constantly having to change up and down between 4 and 5. Now and then the opportunity arose to overtake and I could drop it down to 3 and give it it’s head. By the time we’d cleared most of the traffic in front of us we’d reached Lochearnhead where we turned off, still following the A85 while the rest of the traffic seemed to follow the A84 south. The drive alongside Loch Earn was pleasant enough but after leaving the east end of the loch the scenery began to change and it was obvious that we’d left the beauty of the Trossachs National Park behind. We passed through Crieff but saw nothing there that enticed us to stop. The A85 meets the A9 just before Perth and we headed south to join the M90 a few kilometres further. The M90 was quite a pleasant drive as motorways go and we made a stop at the first services we came to. After making use of the amenities we walked back to the car to find a younger couple looking at the car. If I remember correctly they were from Sweden and had flown over and had a rental car. They weren’t too sure which model BMW it was, only that it was old, so I gave them the usual tour. They said that they’d rather be touring in the beamer than in their new hire car. I just smiled 🙂
It didn’t take long to reach the Forth Road Bridge and we stopped to take a couple of photo’s from the north side of the bridge at a view point. Just west of the original bridge they have started work building a new one to relieve the traffic congestion. On the southside of the bridge we pulled into South Queensferry where I took a couple of shots of the Forth Rail Bridge.
The Forth Bridge is so big that as soon as maintenance crews have finished painting it, it’s time to start again. Thus, any task which can never be completed is said to be “like painting the Forth Bridge”.
The world’s first steel, long-span, cantilever bridge, opened in 1890, remains one of mankind’s greatest engineering achievements. As a modern symbol of Sisyphean labour, however, it’s useless. On reflection, starting at one end and painting doggedly towards the other would be a deeply inefficient approach to such an immense and dangerous job.
Sure enough, an inquiry to the Forth Bridges Visitor Centre Trust brought the categorical statement: “The bridge was never painted in that way. Different parts of the bridge suffer different levels of exposure to the elements; the maintenance schedules reflected that.”
It’s all academic: the bridge is currently having its famous red paint replaced with an epoxy resin expected to last for 20-30 years. In America, incidentally, the equivalent expression is “like painting the Golden Gate Bridge.”
After leaving South Queensferry we approached Edinburgh and found signs for The Royal Yacht Britannia which is moored in Leith Docks and is open to the public. This seemed like a interesting way to spend a couple of hours as I didn’t feel in the mood for dealing with the Edinburgh city centre rush having just left the peace of the highlands and islands. Since as long as I can remember Britannia has been regularly in the news with royal tours etc. so it was quite an experience to be able to walk around it. Not that I’m a royalist or anything but just the history of the ship alone.
The last few kilometres to our destination today was in some reasonably heavy traffic the likes of which we’d not seen in over a week.
The owners of Abercorn Guesthouse in Portobello are Angela and Willie, a lovely couple who made us extremely welcome. We didn’t feel like guests more like old friends and they made some room in the garden at the rear so I could park the beamer off the road. Willie is also a bit of a petrol head and has an old Mercedes which he has restored. After getting installed in the room we went out to take a walk down to the beach and along the promenade to find a pub called the Esplanade or Espy’s, as advised by Angela. She wasn’t wrong! They also do food but we fancied a curry in another local Indian restaurant she had recommended. Another fine day.
Returned again to the mainland for a stay at the Argyll Hotel in Inverary for the night of day six.
Above the Beamer parked in front of the Hotel. A lot of bus parties at the hotel but a little interest in the car from a group of middle-aged bikers.
The day started as usual with the now expected breakfast and after packing and settling the bill at the Islay Hotel we left to drive a couple of kilometres down the road to the Laphroaig Distillery. I had pre-booked a tour earlier in the year as I am also a Friend of Laphroaig but we arrived a little before the tour was to start. This gave us the chance to look round the shop, also to collect my dram as rent on my plot and print out the certificate. I ended up buying a presentation set of the Quarter Cask (48%) and a polo shirt. The tour was similar to the Bruichladdich but a little more corporate in character, nevertheless very interesting and worth the visit. After visiting my plot we drove a little further down the road to find the Lagavullin and Ardbeg Distilleries, and later on the way back to the ferry the Bowmore Distillery, but didn’t spend any more time on tours.
At Laphroaig they had a similar spirit safe to the one at Bruichladdich. If you can understand everything the young lady was saying you’re doing well 😉
We were told that the Kildalton Cross, a few kilometres past Ardbeg, was worth a visit so we drove on to find it. Only when looking for more information later did I realise how interesting it was because when standing at the site without knowing the background it is just another relic.
On the drive back across the top of the island we found the peat bogs (no relation to Pete Boggs 🙂 ) that we had been told about on the Laphroaig tour. The Laphroaig peat is cut by hand and left in situ to dry out before being transported to the distillery. Although we spotted some drying in the distance we saw nobody actually working as this was a Saturday.
The peat bogs on the top of the island
The road is dead straight from just outside Port Ellen past the airport almost to Bowmore but as you can see from the next photo it does tend to undulate as it runs straight across the bogs.
The road over the peat bogs on the top of the island
The next place of interest before reaching Port Askaig again was Finlaggan, another mediaeval site steeped in history with a small museum. When we arrived we had trouble finding a spot to park the car which I thought was strange because we had not seen that many visitors at any other location. Turns out that there was a wedding taking place and as we approached the gate to the small path down to the ruins and lake they were making their way back up to the car park where they boarded a bus and a number of other vehicles. There were people in the party that we had spoken to on the ferry to the island the previous day.
We reached Port Askaig with time to spare and joined the queuing cars by forming a new row to stand at the front of the car park and I wandered down to the ferry dock to take a few pictures of the picturesque hotel and the ferry arriving. Back at the the car waiting to be directed onto the boat we had both doors open as it was quite warm. And then the officer charged with loading the ferry turned up to discuss the waiting vehicles with the person in charge of the car park. He was looking for a large van or something similar to fit in a space just behind the loading door at the front of the boat, but there weren’t any that day. “No problem” he said, “we’ll take the BM (pointing to us) – it’s got big doors and will need the space anyway”. I couldn’t believe my luck, this meant that we would also be first off and wouldn’t have to sit behind the caravans and trucks on leaving the terminal.
Just as I had expected there was nothing on the road in front of us after leaving the ferry terminal at Kennacraig in West Loch Tarbert and we reached Inverary at the head of Loch Fyne after a spirited drive over the A83 through some lovely countryside along the shores of the loch.
After checking in to the Hotel we briefly visited the bar until our restaurant reservation time. We were a little disappointed initially with the hotel, the interior was very tired and in need of a good makeover, so to find that the food in the restaurant was so good made up for it. It seems to be a senior citizen tour bus stopover which probably accounts for the state of the place, but then for the very reasonable (compared to other hotels on the trip) prices one can’t complain too much. After dinner we went for a stroll around the town before returning to the bar to partake of the local ale – again. I was beginning to get a taste for local ales, much better than I remember typical English bitter back in the 80’s before we moved back to Holland, and very different from the typical Dutch pilsner. Here I drink mainly Grolsch.
Day five would find us at my ultimate destination, Islay – home of some of the finest whisky in Scotland.
It was beginning to seem quite normal to start the day with a full hearty breakfast. The hotels here seem to try and outdo each other with the completeness of a ‘full’ breakfast, Kilchrennan was also offering porridge or kippers apart from the usual fry. No mind it certainly sets you up for the day and as I said before you don’t need lunch.
The route today would take us south from Oban to catch the ferry early in the afternoon from Kennacraig on the shores of West Loch Tarbert to Port Askaig on Islay. After driving for about 30 km we saw a sign for Arduaine Garden and decided to stop and look round. An absolutely beautiful place, the peace and quiet reminding us of An Torr a few days earlier and although having an entrance fee it was well worth the visit.
The rest of the trip was a pleasant drive, uneventful with little traffic so we made good time and enjoyed the countryside. The car park for the ferry was already fairly full when we arrived and I parked the car and walked over to the terminal office to check in. When I got back to the car an older guy was quizzing Elly about the car, she hadn’t been able to tell him much so I gave him a tour round it, opened the hood and told him about all the work that had been done over the years. He seemed impressed and wished us a good journey, we were to meet him again in the bar of the Islay Hotel later in the evening.
This ferry crossing was a little longer than the previous day and took about 2 hours but that gave us time to get a coffee, wander round the boat and take in the views. I also found a nice little hard-backed book in the shop about Single Malt Whisky on which I made a start.
After disembarking from the ferry we followed a line of traffic half way across the island until we reached Bridgend were we turned off towards Port Charlotte and found the Bruichladdich Distillery. This was one I wanted to visit as I had read about the traditional Victorian methods they used to produce the whisky.
Here is a short slideshow to show some of the process but this is a car site and although I love single malt whisky if you want to know more about the process there is enough on internet. Try this one “the production of whisky” or this “how is whisky made“. The first is actually a German site, the second a French site with English translations but both tell the story quite well and even have photo’s from Islay distilleries, so they at least have taste. The Bruichladdich Distillery site is also very interesting.
Here is a short video of the spirit safe working
Then it was on to the hotel and although being the most expensive of the whole trip provided an excellent stopover with a first class restaurant serving the best fish we’ve tasted in a long time. The bar had some live Scottish music in the evening and the man who spoke to us at Kennacraig was one of the musicians. I, of course, enjoyed the local ale as well.
After dinner we took a stroll around the town although it was pretty quiet and there not a great deal to see.
Back to the mainland on day four with an overnight at Kilchrennan House, Oban.
Again a traditional hearty breakfast at the Broadford Hotal meant that we could get through the rest of the day without any real need for lunch. The weather had been a little cloudy when we arrived on Skye the evening before and today started out with more cloud than we had seen since starting the tour but it was still more pleasant than I would have expected from the stories that abound about the weather in the northern UK. We had no real plans for Skye apart from a short tour of some of it with the ultimate goal catching the ferry back to Mallaig which would be leaving Armadale in the south of the island at 1430.
We took a steady drive up the coast to Portree where we parked the car to look around.
In the harbour we spotted some guy trying to use a water sphere but he was having trouble even standing up.
We left Portree to drive across the top of the island on a minor road to reach the southern coast which we followed until we found the Talisker Distillery. We didn’t take the tour as it was extremely busy and had a rather commercial, even corporate, feel to it. Showroom with subdued lighting and glitsy display cabinets. We drove on and reached the ferry terminal with time to get a coffee at a little wooden shack where they had a genuine espresso machine.
The ferry left on time and with a crossing time of 25 minutes there wasn’t much time to do much apart from take a couple of photo’s before being called to return to the vehicles.
From Mallaig it was a couple of hours drive down to Oban, part of the route retracing steps from the previous day.
As there was no restaurant in Kilchrennan House, it was just a B&B, we took a walk down into the town to find a restaurant and some drinks. We ended up finding a large pub with reasonably priced drinks, classic real ale and it was Curry Night!!!
The end of day three found us at the Broadford Hotel in Broadford, Skye.
We had left Loch Lomond after another hearty breakfast and travelled north up the A82 through the Grampians which took us to heights of 600m with the mountains around us at over 1000m.
Near Glencoe we stopped at the ‘An Torr’ National Park of Scotland. After parking the car in the car park park just off the main road we set off up a trail through the woods which brought us to a panorama viewpoint on top of a rocky outcrop. The photo of the view is not that brilliant as the outcrop was completely overgrown.
An Torr Slideshow
The most amazing thing was the absolute peace that we found there, it wasn’t so far from the main road but all you could hear was the birds singing and the wind in the trees.
After leaving An Torr we carried on past Glencoe and Loch Leven and drove up along the banks of Loch Linnhe to Fort William. On this stretch of road we were skirting around Ben Nevis. From Fort William we ran parallel with the Caledonian Canal which runs from the North Atlantic and Loch Linnhe all the way up to Inverness, the Moray Firth and the North Sea passing through Loch Lochy, Loch Oich and Loch Ness.
Loch Lomond to Loch Ness Slideshow
Stopping in Fort Augustus on the southern shores of Loch Ness to stretch our legs and take some photo’s we got caught up in some tourist madness, it was pretty busy and difficult to park. There were a number of boats waiting to traverse the locks from Loch Ness up to the canal heading south.
Fort Augustus Slideshow
Leaving Fort Augustus we followed the A82 a little further north before turning west on the A887 at Invermoriston. This was an amazing stretch of road, I think I could have counted the cars seen on one hand, a brilliant cruise until meeting up with the A87 near Loch Cluanie.
Here we met up with more traffic but it was not what you’d call heavy, the power in the 3.5 litre motor was good enough to get past the other vehicles we caught up with. The road took us to what would have been the end of the line in the past, Kyle of Lochalsh, but these days you don’t need to catch the ferry as the road carries on over the bridge to Skye. Kyle was a place I always wanted to visit as it always had this romantic quality which was coupled with the railway which ended at the ferry terminal. I had seen it time and time again on railway travel programmes but the reality when we stopped to wander round was disappointing, probably due to the the disappearance of the ferry and the presence of only small diesel trains. The famous Hotel also looked as if it had seen better days, rather sad. We weren’t there too long before crossing the bridge and heading to our last stop for the day at the Broadford Hotel. Again excellent food and drink.
The first night in Scotland we would spend at the Inn on Loch Lomond at Inverbeg.
Inn on Loch Lomond at Inverbeg
We left Bowland Bridge after breakfast and drove through the Lake District via Windermere, Ambleside, Keswick and Cockermouth to Carlisle.
Then avoiding the A74M up through Galloway via Dumfries and Kilmarnock and on to Glasgow. Possibly not the best choice as we encountered a lot of delays through road works where they were using a convoy system from traffic light to traffic light through the length of the restriction. Apart from that the roads were not particularly inspiring to drive and I doubt if I would bother to repeat the experience. If I’d known beforehand I would have spent more time in the Lake District and then used the M74 motorway to Glasgow.
Glasgow brought us back to the typical urban mayhem we were so pleased to get away from the previous evening but after a short stretch of M8 west we left the motorway to cross the Clyde over the Erskine Bridge. Here we picked up the A82, a fine trunk road which would eventually take us all the way up to Loch Ness but for today the journey would end at Inverbeg on Loch Lomond. Stopping at a services near Dumbarton I bought a decent map so I could turn off the TomTom, I mean who needs it in the west of Scotland, there aren’t that many roads to get lost on. After leaving the Dumbarton area the roads seemed to get progressively quieter and the last few kilometers were extremely pleasant and a taste of things to come.
We arrived at the end of the afternoon to pull into the car park at the front of the hotel where a couple of the staff were sitting outside in the late afternoon sunshine taking a smoke break. There was immediate interest in the car with questions about which model and how old it was , this would become a regular occurrence at most places we stopped. It was another beautiful evening so after checking in and dumping the baggage in the room we sat on the terrace and sampled the local ale.
After that we crossed the main road through a tunnel to reach the shores of Loch Lomond and walked along the cycle/footpath for a way to take a few photos. I say cycle path but we didn’t see anybody using it, most of the crazy cyclists were braving it amongst the truck, bus and car traffic on the main road.
The slideshow below give you an idea of the beauty of Loch Lomond, but it does in no way do justice to just being there.
After sampling the local fare in the excellent restaurant we retired to the bar for another pint of the local Galaxy Trial and a single malt. A great way to end the day.
After visiting friends and family in the Midlands the first night of our trip to Scotland was spent in Bowland Bridge, Lake District.
Here below a few pictures of a beautiful (possibly untypical) evening in the Lake District. What we noticed most was the peace and quiet compared to the city environment we left earlier in the afternoon. The Hare & Hounds was a charming country pub hotel that does marvellous food & ale and a typical full english breakfast. The Beamer was the only Dutch car parked next to the hotel and we saw no other Dutch cars on the road today.
After leaving the previous evening at 1800 we called at Santorini at around 0200, Anafi around 0400, Kasos around 0930 and I drove off the boat in Karpathos at about 1130. Elly, Denise and grandson Nick were waiting on the dock but being one of the first on the boat, I was one of the last off so they had a long wait. The whole harbour area was full of vehicles waiting to get on the ferry and progress along the promenade was slow. I pulled up at a restaurant belonging to some friends of ours to ask if one of the guys was around but he wasn’t, so I drove on up to the hotel where the rest of the party were waiting and we unloaded the car. Time for a beer at the pool I think. :-).
The second day of the trip started calmly enough with a leisurely breakfast at the hotel. The trip from Verona to Ancona was about 360km so I thought I had time enough to spare before the ferry left at 1330, it was Sunday after all. Was I in for a surprise! Horrendous traffic around Modena and Bologna meant that I was standing still or crawling for what seemed like hours. The ETA on TomTom was getting later and later. I had not bothered to take any photo’s or shoot any video over this stretch as it is not a particularly scenic part of the country and when we eventually got some kind of movement in the traffic I just hadn’t got the time. The traffic in the left hand lane of the autostrada was solid and I found that I could make more time by driving on the right and weaving in between traffic where necessary. I was still running behind schedule when I got closer to the coast just past Imola but a lot of the traffic was leaving the autostrada for the coastal areas. This gave me the space to floor it where I could but was still sitting behind slower cars because I’m not not the type to tailgate. I noticed a set of headlights pull up behind me at a rate of knots and saw an Audi emblem right on my back bumper. Best thing to do with people like this is let them go so I pulled over and let him go. He wasn’t intending to hang around behind the two cars I was following either and I saw them start to pull over. I had to catch that ferry so I thought “What the F*#k – if you can’t beat ’em join ’em” and I quickly tagged on behind him. It was an Audi R8 with a Liechtenstein license plate, you know the type – money no object. This arrangement worked out pretty well as I started to see the ETA come down to put me in the window again. We were travelling between 160 – 180 kph more or less all the way to the Ancona exit and I guess he was approaching 200 at times as he pulled away before being slowed down by traffic again and then me catching him again. As I turned off the autostrada to drive the last few k’s into Ancona I flashed my headlights as a bit a nod towards a thank-you, but I don’t suppose he’d even noticed me. Shame there was no video actually, it would have been quite interesting.
Well I made the ferry with about half an hour to spare eventually and here are a few photo’s taken on the ferry as we left.
Day 3, Monday 12th August
We arrived in Igoumenitsa on a hazy Monday morning at around 06:30. As I was one of the last vehicles to board, I was one of the first to drive off. There were a few (mostly Italian) cars, caravans and large campers in front of me as I followed the procession out of the harbour area. The main road out of Igoumenitsa (A2, E90) is a fairly new dual carriageway cut through the hills and begins with a fairly steep climb before levelling out a little higher up in the hills. I passed all of these vehicles in the climb and by the time I reached the top I had the road to myself. As it happens it was only about 5 km before I turned off to head south on a smaller local road to join the A18 which runs down the coast towards Preveza. Just before Preveza the route took me east for a while on the A21 to run around Arta before heading south again on the A5. I followed the A5 until reaching the Rio-Antirion Bridge which was about half way on the route to Athens. A lot of this road was really good but there was also a lot where the road surface was really poor and I had to take avoiding action around tarmac that was breaking up and creating potholes. Traffic was extremely light for a Monday morning and not what I was expecting after my experience in Italy the day before. I only held up briefly once on the whole stretch and that was behind an Albanian truck that obviously had some problem. After a few kilometres of crawling along he pulled in to a parking area on the right and the traffic got past and got back to a normal speed. I thought that another Greek truck behind him would have also held us up but this was not the case and we were soon travelling at 80-90kph, fast enough on this piece of road. Somewhere along this road (I can’t remember exactly) I had stopped to fill up and get a coffee, the breakfast on the ferry meant that I didn’t need much more. I like the old fashioned service you find in fuel stations in Greece, especially those outside of the big centres like Athens. There was no self service and when I pulled up, got out and grabbed the pump hose a guy came dashing out remonstrating with me that he was going to do it. I told him to fill it up and opened the hood to let him check the oil. I asked him if I could get a coffee and he told me to see his colleague inside. I ordered a double espresso and sat in the shade outside at a small aluminium bistro table and waited for him to bring it out. I seem to remember that it was around 0930 and the sound of crickets was already filling the air. The coffee was good as I watched the guy at the pump cleaning my screen before telling me that it was finished. No oil was needed – of course not, I had rebuilt the engine well 😉 . After paying the bill I set off again and reached the bridge about an hour later. The bridge and a number of sections of the road beyond that are toll although it is only a couple of euro each time. The first part of this road from the bridge to Korinthos (A8a, E65) runs along the southern coast of the Gulf of Corinth and although being designated as a highway it is for most of it’s length a 3-lane road with a narrow hard shoulder on both sides. The lane in the middle is officially for overtaking but what happens in practice is that slower moving vehicles tend to drive half on the shoulder and faster moving traffic passes both ways using half of the centre lane. A bit scary 😐 . Road surface wasn’t too bad, although there were a lot of road works where they were obviously building a new dual carriageway. To be honest I was glad to get off it and once we reached the next major junction at Korinthos we joined the A8 (E94) which was a real six lane highway running all the way to Athens. By now it was getting on for lunch time so I pulled in to a service area and got a sandwich and something to drink, this was however the same sort of place you’d find anywhere else on European motorways. Reaching Athens some time before two I had about four hours to wait before the ferry left at 1800. By now the August temperatures had soared so I parked the car near the ferry and took a walk to find a bar and a cold beer. When I got back a little later I opened the car door which was like opening the oven door in our kitchen. I had to wait a couple of minutes with the doors open before I could get in. About four o’clock they decided to start loading some of the waiting vehicles, that in itself is a bit of a puzzle as they call at a number of destinations en route and have to load and unload at each port. I was getting off at Karpathos the last but one major island before reaching Rhodes where they turn around and return to Athens the same way.