Monday 7th July To Aberdeen and the ferry 194 miles
The night was quiet, despite the proximity of the railway and the motorway. It was noticeably cooler in the morning than at home.
We thought of little Rita, one today, and tried to phone, but got no reply from Tom. We found out later that he was out walking with her, and a sudden downpour had meant that he was trying to keep Rita dry, so couldn't access his phone.
We left at 9 o'clock and took a cross country road on the A702 to the outskirts of Edinburgh. It was a rural route through pretty villages and the pleasant stone town of Biggar. As Jon and Lois are away on holiday, there would be no calling in at Bridge of Allan.
We made for the Forth Bridge, with all its associated memories - a photo of Norman beside the rail bridge in the fifties, and then of me in 1963 with friends, and again more recently.
We crossed the bridge, and found our way with difficulty to park under the rail bridge. We looked across to the nice stone buildings of North Queensferry, and the construction of the new bridge beyond. Adrian chatted to a local man, who told him that the new bridge is ahead of schedule, and was under budget (at £1.2bn!). The weather was sunny, but the wind was cool.
The Forth road and rail bridges
Tuesday 8th July We arrive in Shetland 55 miles
I woke at 4.30 to see the sun just rising over the sea. Then at 6.30, when we got up, the sun was sparkling on the water, but by the time we reached Lerwick it had become misty. We had showers/hairwash, making the most of our facilities, then went to the Magnus lounge for our complimentary continental breakfast - we hadn't been expecting that, but managed to fit it in, ready to leave the boat at 7.30. (you could return for breakfast, but we didn't want to do that.)
Our boat arrives in Lerwick, Shetland
Sunday 6th July 2014 We set off for Shetland 351 miles
Looking down to Dales Voe
We often had glimpses of the coast, but rarely did the road go there. At one point we had a view to the island of Foula in the distance, then at Sandness to Papa Stour. The weather now was warm and sunny. We came to a lovely sandy beach at Melby, so this was the place to walk along.
Cut peat being dried
Pretty Melby beach
Unusual ‘Click Mills’ - horizontal water mills
Overnighter beside the sheep pen, Huxter
The red sun above Papa Stour
Wednesday 9th July From Westside to Northmavine 98 miles
Disappointingly there was rain in the night, and the morning was wet. Luckily the day improved.
We left at 8.45 and drove to Bousta on the eastern end of this promontory. We came to a secluded bay, where there was a seal symbol on our map, an sure enough, we saw a seal!
We returned and made our way to Scord of Brouster, where, after much difficulty in locating the site, we found the excavated ruins of houses dating from 3,000 to 1,500 BC. The climate was much different then, and the land was farmed. It was quite a trek up a hill, and 'a long way to see a rock'!
We continued back to Bixter, then drove up to Aith.
Here we came across 'Michael's Wood', an inspirational area of planted woodland in memory of a local lad called Michael who had died in 1996. He had been a promising musician and a great thinker. The area was interspersed with picnic tables and with sayings by such people as Mandela, Lincoln and Will Rogers. It was called 'The Philosophers walk'. There was a pond, a bird hide, and play things for children, including a play house with a mock turf roof! Obviously a local project created with much love. We had coffee afterwards, but not at a picnic table!
Ruins of ancient dwellings, Scord of Brouster
Soon afterwards we stopped to walk up beside the Burn of Lunklet, a pretty peaty stream, to an attractive waterfall. It hadn't said how far this was, but luckily we found it before we gave up!
Rosie at the entrance to Michael’s Wood, Aith
We now drove west to the lovely bay of Stenness. Just before there was a spectacular offshore rock called Dore Holm, with a large hole in it.
Hillswick Bay with its Clutch kettles
This whole area is volcanic. Just offshore was the tiny Isle of Stenness.
We drove on to Stenness lighthouse, where it was very windy, but there were great stacks just out to sea.
Dramatic Dore Holm rock, Stenness
We drove on north to the former home of Johnny Notions, now a 'bod' (booth), a simple holiday home. Johnny Notions was a local man who had invented many things, including an inoculation for smallpox. The area now was just one of derelict stone houses.
Now we continued to the north of Northmavine, through North Roe to Ibister, where the road just ended. Here in a garden was a French ‘Potez’ plane which the owner had rescued from Sunburgh Airport after it had crash landed and had been used as a ‘fire’ practice plane for many years. He is restoring it - though not to a flying state!
French ‘Potez’ plane
Beautiful overnighter near Nibon
It was now drizzling heavily, and this tuned to rain as we made our way back to Gutcher.
As we waited to board the ferry, Janet's grandson Oscar looked in the window to say hello. He had just come off the ferry, having been at Janet's. We didn't chat long, as it was now raining hard.
We were the only vehicle on the boat. As we drove off at Fetlar, Janet was there to greet us.
Memorial to lost fishermen, Gloup, Yell
Janet greets us as we arrive on Fetlar
We stopped by the Loch of Funzie, which is supposedly a good place to see the red necked phalarope - Fetlar is the most southerly breeding ground of the bird, which is very rare in Britain. We had seen one in Iceland last year, which was lucky, as we didn't see any today, despite walking across the field to the hide.
As we continued along the road, we found it blocked by a digger which a lady had been using to dig out ditches. It had toppled over! She did manage to right it after a while, and smilingly waved us on our way.
Funzie Bay, Fetlar
I had said that I'd like to send an email to Ruth to wish her a happy birthday for tomorrow. The internet at Janet's wasn't working. Not to be outdone, she tried phoning a 'neighbour', and asked her to ring back if her internet was working. It was, so off we set with Janet to 'Mother Mary's' house, up on the 'main road'. Mother Mary is an episcopal nun, and she greeted us in her paint covered overalls! They chatted while I sent e-mails to Ruth, and also to Elliott, who will be two the following day! After that, Janet drove on to show us the air strip, before coming back to her house. A bit later, she drove us to Margaret's, to have a chat, and say our goodbyes. More chat back at Janet's, and then we came out to the van at 10.30, with the full moon shining down, before the mist descended briefly.
Tresta Beach, in front of Janet and Peter’s home
We looked in at simple Fetlar church (kirk), which Janet looks after (in her spare time!)
Janet showed us over their new house, and after much chat, we went out to the Ixi at 10.45.
Papil Water from Janet & Peter’s house
Friday 11th July A Day on Fetlar 15 miles
We woke to a lovely morning. After breakfast in our van, we set off at 9.15 to drive the road eastwards on the island. We had arranged with Janet to have 'brunch' with them at midday.
Janet & Peter’s beloved Shetland ponies
The narrow isthmus of Mavis Grind, between the Atlantic (left) and the North Sea (right)
Thursday 10th July Across Yell to Fetlar 64 miles
We enjoyed our lovely view, despite the greyness of the morning. It was almost 9 o'clock when we drove on down to Nibon - a total of 4 houses! There were plenty of sheep, and lots of little rabbits scurried off on our return.
We stopped by Mavis Grind, the narrow isthmus whose name means just that. There were two information boards about the geology and the two fault lines which occur here. Another board told how people in the past would manhandle their boats across the narrow isthmus - from the Atlantic to the North Sea - to save the long boat journey around the north of the island. There was a story of a family with two tiny children doing just that.
Shetland to Kielder
Saturday 12th July Unst, Shetland's most northern island 63 miles
We set the alarm for 6.45, as we were booked on to the 7.55 ferry to Unst. The sun was shining as we got up, but mist came and went. We left at 7.15, driving to the ferry at Hamars Ness, but turning off to look at the old jetty at Sands of Sand.
Sands of Sand, Fetlar
Uyeasound, Unst, Shetland
Muness Castle, Unst
Bus shelter decorated to honour Nelson Mandela
Lovely Northwick Bay. Unst
After that, things didn't go so well! We drove up to the former RAF site at Saxa Vord, where we were hoping for a view over Burrafirth to the island of Muckle Flugga. The fine day had turned to mist, so there was no view at all!
We drove down to Burrafirth nature reserve, in a very pretty location with a sandy beach separated from long Loch of Cliff by a narrow strip of land. There were no seaward views from the road, and no time for us to go wandering into the reserve today.
We made our way back to Baltasound, and found a spot to watch two races of the 'sixareens'.
Skaw, Unst, Shetland, most northerly in British Isles
Cars were parked haphazardly everywhere, but Adrian negotiated them all, and we continued south. We turned off to drive towards Westing, on the western side of the island, where there was the remains of a Viking longhouse, but it was too windy for me to enjoy!
Sixareen boat race, Baltasound, Unst
We viewed Viking St Olaf's church ruins before making our way to the ferry to Yell at Belmont, passing the largest standing stone on Shetland.
It was 4.55 when we reached the ferry terminal at Belmont. We were planning to catch the 5.15 ferry, but were disconcerted to see the number of cars already there (they miss out the 4.30 boat on a Saturday!) with more arriving for the 'booked' queue We waited in trepidation. The ferry arrived, and cars began to board - more than we had imagined - but stopping just as it got to our turn. Adrian got quite anxious, as we need to get across Yell tomorrow and then on to 'Mainland'. He tried phoning, to book a place on the next ferry (5.55), but when someone finally answered, she said that the booking office closed at 4.30!
Anyway, all was well! We were first onto the boat for the short (10 minute) crossing, first off, and soon afterwards found a place to pull off for the night beside the road.
I cooked the kippers from Lerwick for supper.
Remains of Viking Broch and longhouse, Westing, Unst
Ready to drive across Yell
We came down to Scalloway, on the western side of the island. This former capital of the Shetlands is still a busy fishing port. It is situated in a very nice situation looking out over water and islands and had a large number of shrubs and trees - very unusual on Shetland.
Tingwall Kirk, Shetland
Crowds of guillemots and an entertaining puffin
West Voe Beach near Sumburgh Head - lovely place for breakfast
Paddling at superb Sqiggie Beach
The perfect tombola to St Ninian’s Isle, Shetland
Some time later, we passed the island of Fair Isle.
We started working on the website for this trip, but it was hard work from the angle at the table.
Just before 11 pm, we arrived at Kirkwall, where it had just rained. We drove on to the harbour car park, where we had stayed two years ago. It was still just light.
Passing Sumburgh Head on the ferry to Orkney
Sunday 13th July Right down to the southern tip of Shetland 101 miles
Monday 14th July Goodbye Shetland 47 miles
We woke early to a really beautiful morning. We could see Sumburgh Lighthouse clearly as we sat at a picnic table to have breakfast, looking through grasses to the lovely beach. The idyll was only marred by the flies. The night had been quiet.
Tuesday 15th July A day disappears on Orkney 31 miles
We went into the craft centre opposite, and then into the tourist information, walking out of a different door and having a bit of trouble finding our way back to the car park. We then had a late coffee/tea, with a real 'cream bun', like from our childhood.
We set off now, driving first to sandy Waulkmill Bay, which looked pretty through the purple heather. There was a long path down, which we didn't take.
St Magnus Cathedral, Kirkwall
Window celebrating 850 years of the cathedral
Memorial to men of the Royal Oak, sunk in Scapa Flow in 1939
We drove on past Kirkwall Loch, but the road didn't go right by the water, and there was nowhere to stop.
We drove back across the island to Finstown and pulled in by the front for lunch. We had found Orkney far less wild than Shetland, with more fields used for farming.
Turf roofed house Haystacks Orkney style
Lovely Skaill Bay, with Skara Brae beside it
Yesnaby rock stack
Wednesday 16th July Back to mainland Scotland 55 miles (correctly guessed by me!)
I had wanted to revisit the Italian Chapel, which had so moved me in 2012. I found it equally moving this time. It had been built from two Nissan huts by the Italian prisoners of war. The sun had now come out, and it felt beautifully warm.
One of the Churchill barriers
The evocative Italian chapel
We drove back to St Margaret's Hope, and to the ferry terminal for our 6 o'clock ferry to Gills Bay.
Our crossing was uneventful, and soon after 7 o'clock we arrived at Gills Bay.
Hoxa Beach - goodbye to Orkney!
Gills Bay with our ferry in the background
Thursday 17th July We start our John o Groats to Lands End drive 72 miles
There were a few cyclists about, and I wondered if any had cycled from Lands End, with no-one here to greet them.
We drove back to Duncansby Head, which is actually NE of John o' Groats, so a better starting point. It was extremely windy as we set off to walk to the dramatic rock stacks.
Where are we?
Sandside Bay, Dounreay
We had supper, using the many veg we had bought, followed by delicious Scottish strawberries.
Pretty overnighter near Bettyhill
Friday 18th July We head southwards 91 miles
It was a beautiful morning. We enjoyed our views of the green hills all around, and left just before 9 o’clock. We followed the pretty Naver River with the sun sparkling on the water. There were lots of places where you could pull off. We continued past Loch Naver, which looked gorgeous.
When it came to coffee time, we drove through a vast area of felled, dead trees, but did find somewhere to stop in the end overlooking conifer forests. Soon afterwards, we stopped to buy some of 'Adams free range eggs' from a roadside box.
We continued south to Bonar Bridge, where we crossed on a fine bridge to a nice picnic area beside the end of Dornoch Firth. It was extremely windy as we sat on a bench to eat our lunch.
Lovely Loch Naver
We wandered back on an unkempt footpath, often having to clamber over fallen trees with nothing to prevent you from slipping down the steep sides of the ravine. I wouldn't have wanted to be there with children! We walked on to see a long waterfall cascading down.
Very soon we joined the A9, and what a contrast - we saw more cars than we had seen in our whole time in the north of Scotland! Luckily we were only on it for a couple of miles. During that time, we pulled in beside Cromarty Firth, and with an internet connection had a delightful skype conversation with Tom, Mar and happy chuckling little Rita - a real bonus.
We drove on through Dingwalls, with some fine buildings, to Muir of Ord and soon came to Clash Wood forestry parking area. It was just after 5 o'clock. We set off on another walk into the mixed woodland on this pleasant evening. It had a real feel of Eastern Europe, particularly Poland, with its unpretentiousness.
The bridge Black Rock Gorge
We ate excellent Scottish salmon for supper. It rained at bedtime.
A walk in Clash Woods
Saturday 19th July Inverness and Aviemore 105 miles
Lunch by Loch Morlich
Cottage near Tormintoul
Sunday 20th July Balmoral, Braemar and more! 87 miles
The morning was grey and dry, but very still. After enjoying a fried breakfast, we walked around this really pleasant picnic area.
Nice overnighter, Corgarff
Images of Balmoral, with Brunel’s bridge over the River Dee
House where R.L. Stevenson reputedly wrote Treasure Island, Braemar
A bit further on, we parked with difficulty by a bridge over the Garry River where we walked back to look down once again, this time to a stony beach far below by the river.
Walking above the gorge at Killiekrankie
We drove on now to Queen's View - a splendid spot looking down to Loch Tummel, said to be a favourite place of Queen Victoria.
Looking down to the Garry River
Loch Tummel from Queen’s View
We were able to get an internet connection for the first time today, and so phoned Emma, who is at Elm Gable for the weekend. It was nice to hear that our garden is looking good!
We could then sit and watch the sun go down across the loch. A top spot!
Top spot Loch Rannoch
Monday 21st July South past Glasgow 132 miles
We woke to an overcast morning which turned sunny later. After breakfast we walked along the pebbly beach as far as the dilapidated little pier with a couple of forgotten boats.
Looking back to our van from the little pier, Loch Rannock
After chatting for some time, we drove up the road a bit and parked (using our blue badge, as it was all quite busy) and walked back to 'The Bakehouse', hoping for some good bread. Unfortunately, this was more like an American style bakers - a cafe, with very little for us to buy. We settled on a couple of small 'prebaked' baguette rolls and a fresh cream éclair, which turned out to be not very fresh!
Adrian suggested driving on to the Falls of Dochart, just up the road , for 'elevenses', but we found that there was no parking at all here, so we had to return to our spot in the car park, difficult to negotiate! From here, we walked up to the Falls of Dochart - more tumbling cascades than falls.
Fairview, Killin, where Adrian had stayed in 1959, and how it looked then - just the same!
They were very pretty, but necessitated walking across the single lane bridge, where traffic came in both directions!
We walked back, passing many flowery gardens. It was now warm - we both changed into shorts.
We drove along Glen Ogle, then past Loch Earn to Loch Lubnaig. Here we stopped at a picnic site where we made up lunch to eat from a picnic table by the pebbly beach where families were happily enjoying themselves. One dad had a large bubble machine, which was causing a lot of fun. It was a nice stop.
The Falls of Dochart, Killin
Lunch at Loch Lubnaig
Tuesday 22nd July Delights and memories of the border country 109 miles
Afterwards we sat on our Danish seats for our tea/coffee. It was peaceful, with just the distant bleating of sheep, the twitter of birds from the few trees, the chirping of a cricket, and a faraway plane.
We drove across moorland to Cappercleuth, where there was an old AA box at the junction.
At the end of the reservoir, the narrow road climbed very steeply, with no passing places. Luckily we reached the top before we met a vehicle! Waterfalls trickled down, and there were harebells growing and sheep bleating.
Stunning reflections in the Talla reservoir
Our road now wound across moorland to Megget reservoir, being joined by another little stream. This reservoir wasn't so steep or dramatic, but we had a lovely stop, walking a short way to the ruins of Cramall tower.
Looking back to the Talla reservoir from the top of the hill
King of the castle at Cramall Tower on Megget Reservoir
We slept well, and we left John & Suzanne's at 8.15 on a grey morning, which soon brightened.
We drove right through Henley - peaceful at this early hour, with just a few joggers out.
The streets were bedecked with flowers and flags for the regatta, reminding me of the time I had arrived there with two friends as a young teenager on a cycling/youth hostelling holiday. The flags were out then to greet the Queen, who was visiting and we couldn't believe our luck! We had joked at first that the flags had been put up for us!
We travelled up to the M40, then M42, M5 and by the time we stopped for coffee north of Birmingham on the M6, it was fine and sunny. We had a trouble free day on the motorway, stopping at Charnock Richard for lunch, and then at Southwaite services near Carlisle , where we sat at a picnic table(!) in the sun for our cup of tea.
At 5.30 we turned off the M74 motorway near Beattock, stopping for the night beside an old bit of road in the Scottish hills, sandwiched near the motorway and the railway! It was now that we had some heavy drops of rain and a bit of thunder.
We noticed thousands of flidgies outside, but we were safely tucked inside,enjoying our first night of being 'away'. It was still light at bedtime.