Days 24 and 25 – London to Bournemouth

Yesterday was the long hot drive from Stratford to London, and I met my friend Hazel at the home she is staying at belonging to her friends. They are just off Gunnersbury Park, and a short underground ride to South Kensington (where the museum of Natural History is).

Best of all, in 30° temps was the sight of the swimming pool!

No blog last night because I was talking so much – and listening – and swimming. At the end of a long evening I slipped up to the attic bedroom Hazel had given up for me and slept on top of the bed under the fan.

This morning we breakfasted and farewelled. Me to walk to the Underground, and she to the train North to see family. I joined the vast crowd at Sth Kensington streaming in to the museum, and enjoyed the sheer size and variation of the displays. The minerals, precious stones, birds, fossils, and moon display! Most popular of course, the dinosaurs!

Sweating, tired and maxed out on crowds I tubed back to my car and today drove down to Bournemouth.

I’ve caught up with Anna and Matthew, and we’ve gone for fish and chips to Christchurch (Alexander’s) – which we ate around at the water’s edge. So good! Now I’m sipping beer in the delicious cool of a summer evening and letting my faithful readers know where I am. I’ll be here until I go to Gatwick on Sunday and fly to Florida.

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Day 23 – A heatwave in Stratford-Upon-Avon

Bill Shakespeare and his wife and mother are now like family to me. I’ve wandered the empty space that was once his family home – not so empty since it’s filled with extensive gardens, sculptures, activity centres, but I actually stood on the spot he did much of his writing.

I’ve felt the sun beating down on my head as I’ve strolled his town, many of the buildings exactly the same.

I’ve mopped perspiration from my brow as I’ve strolled the market where I purchased a clever coin pendant with a ship cut out of its face.

I’ve sought out shade wherever I could find it: the huge oak (?) tree in the green that many sat beneath licking ice cream, a small tree in the Garden Cafe where I had Earl Grey tea and scone and cream, the overhanging lintels of the Tudor homes. In desperation I tried unsuccessfully once but later succeeded in slipping in to a canal cruiseboat, and just the sight of brown water sliding by was cooling. Enjoyed going through the lock particularly.

After seeing Will’s home AND his birthplace, I had circled the old town twice, my lower back was hurting and the sun was at its zenith. I made my painful progression back to my car and turning the ac to full blast headed to meet the man’s Mum: Mary Arden. Sadly, she’d passed on in Tudor times, but her family’s huge farm and outbuildings are behaving as if she left yesterday. Maids in aprons and mob caps feed chicken, weave, do dishes, and show off the Owl falcon and other birds of prey. Will would have collected chicken’s eggs for his grandparents here I’m sure.

After my second small tub of ice cream this day I drove to meet Anne Hathaway – his wife. Or her chocolate box of a thatched cottage. This rambling thatched building has been pictured on many postcards and souvenirs that I’ve seen over the years so it was wonderful to see it with my own eyes. The garden was at its very best – my favourite being the sprawling apple orchard laden with fruit. The house was cool (oh bliss) and full of interesting items: beds bequeathed to Anne and slept in by Will and her, the carving courting chair, the fabric and quills and kitchen items! I only bumped my head once – a miracle!

I went across the road to take almost the last cold drink from the cafe cabinet, and put the address of my next B&B in Apple maps. (My last in UK. I’m with friends over the coming week).

Just 15 mins out of town is Wellesbourne, and after some shifty manoeuvring I found myself upstairs in a small single room in full sun. Perfectly friendly hosts but even the fan did nothing much to alleviate the pounding oven-like atmosphere as I lay on that bed trying to rest. After an hour of gentle cooking and feeling a headache coming on I took myself down the road on the last burst of energy I had to the local pub. There I had a garden to sit in and a pint of cold ale to sip. Whew! Afterwards I enjoyed the best Sunday roast I’ve had in UK.

I’ve returned to chat with my host and take my book into the garden and read until the sun went down. It’s still hot and tomorrow, in London, will be the same I understand.

Day 22 – further south, to meet the Bard.

I left the odd hotel at Broughton – near Cockermouth – after another hearty breakfast and a comfortable night in a time warp from 1960s. The room I was in and indeed, the hotel, had received little style upgrade since then but the VIEW from the front window!! As I departed I noted the two peahens and a peacock I’d heard in the morning.

I had 4 hours to drive today, about my limit really, so I set my GPS and went for it. To my surprise the scenery was made up of a long dark lake with rising mountains (like sleeping mammoths) overlapping the landscape behind them. Closer up the tufty vegetation on them proved to be purple heather. I don’t know where I got the idea that the land was flattish in the Lake District; I was very wrong. And to make matters more spectacular the sun was out, the sky was blue and the day grew warmer the further south I went. It was a heatwave in Stratford-Upon-Avon!

I stopped twice at those service centres and was very pleased to find my B&B on one of the main streets of the town. First things first: my Kingsize bed is incredibly comfortable and soft! Thank the Lord!

There was a moment of near panic when I couldn’t find my passport and thought I’d left it in a drawer in Edinburgh but no, a rummage through small bag revealed it! The relief!!!!

After a cuppa and nap I set off on foot in some nice clothes to find Royal Shakespeare Theatre. I felt like I was pinching myself a lot as I basked in the sun, the gala atmosphere, the rooftop restaurant (already paid for) and finally the play ‘As You Like It’. Even walking home late it is as humid as midday and the Tudor architecture adds an exquisite pattern to the night sky. I can’t wait to explore tomorrow. It’s not the best Shakespeare I’ve seen, either the play or the director’s modern vision, but hey, it’s Shakespeare in his home town. Pinch me.

Day 21 – and down I go to the Lakes

I’m staying tonight in a rambling edifice of a ‘hotel’ called Broughton Craggs and situated near a town dubiously titled Cockermouth. That must be why I picked it. Is this the origin of the Cocker spaniel breed? Is this where roosters first crowed – “Cocker Doodle doooooo!” I’ll never know. Suffice it to say I feel I’m barely over the border from Scotland perched on the northwestern edge of the Lake District. Here was where – if they weren’t actually involved in endless skirmishes with the Scots, an arrow or two must have landed now and then on these soft green pastures.

I know I am well and truly in England because 1) I am cast on bed after a particularly heavy roast dinner, cooked in exactly the same way my Grandmother cooked it: peas, slightly dry meat, gravy, chunky carrots, completed boiled to death broccoli and cauli and 2) the traffic on the road here was thick with holidaymakers heading elsewhere – Blackpool? – for Banks Holiday weekend.

It was with dragging feet I lugged my carryon bag out to the car this morning, messily packed with an assortment of crushed and slightly worn garments. I must refresh the contents with some relatively clean ones from the big bag in the boot/trunk of the car.

I farewelled Glasgow as I drove through without having stopped to shake her hand this time. Soon I was plunging south toward Carlisle and on impulse pulled off beforehand to go west and view my last Scottish castle: Caerlaverock near Dingwell. I enjoyed a circuit of tiny roads twisting over one lane bridges on the way, at one point coming perilously close to hitting the tractor/trailer approaching on bend from other direction. Eventually I negotiated the castle car park and got out to stare at the quaint square frontage of this moated fortification. It was under siege once to King Edward 1 who eventually captured it. As with all border castles, it has led a far from peaceful existence.

I had my last taste of Scottish fare IN Scotland: a tasty Cullen Skink soup, and set off for the south, never noticing when I passed in to England.

Rather than sightsee after that drive, I’ve read my book in the parlour with a pink gin, and had dinner. I’ve climbed the stairs and down two passages to my room in a remote wing. I appear to have been nestled in the wing that houses a noisy grown family and their dog – 6 adults in all – and the walls are very thin. It makes for a good story but I’m baffled when the rest of the edifice is empty.

There’s an extra long trip tomorrow – 4 hours – to get to Stratford-upon-Avon. I’m looking forward to immersing myself in the Bard’s musings.

Day 20 – last full day in Scotland

Loch Lomond and the view from the water up the loch to the mountain peaks in the distance. I felt a wee whimper escape knowing it could be a while – if ever – before I could come back. You truly are in my blood Scotland!

I emerged from my comfy single room this morning into the common room a few of us were to enjoy breakfast in. Last night had been a bit restless – another firm (read hard) mattress and no comfortable way to lie on my side with no give underneath and two very soft feather pillows forcing my head down on to the bed. Inspiration struck at around midnight at my most desperate. I pulled one pillow down to butt level and it flattened out in a feathery softness, stuck a cushion under the head one, and was finally able to sleep. You may think this is too much information but THE single most important item on a travelling holiday is a good bed. When hosts expend such extravagance on tissue boxes, soaps, shampoos, biscuits etc I wonder why a simple foam topper doesn’t occur to them. Rant over.

I’m possibly edgy because I’m leaving this country tomorrow for the more domesticated south – delightful though that is.

After a pleasant chat with a Bristol man over a Scottish brekky, being watched by a couple from Swtizerland who studied us closely from the other side of table, I set off for a nearby lakeside town called Balmaha. Not much beyond a hotel, good cafe and huge carpark and info centre. Here’s where a vast number of walkers set off on the vast number of walking trails. I meandered down to the lake edge with its black choppy waters and discovered the path leading to a boat trip around the loch.

20 mins later about ten of us were speeding in a partially open vessel out among the chilly waters and many little islands poking prettily up in the water. It was a delicious experience, lasting a little under an hour and giving some sweeping views of the distant rise of the mountains. Deep heartfelt sigh.

Trudging through pools and light rain afterwards I found a seat at the cafe and had a flat white and bacon roll.

The rain was setting in. Turning the car north I headed for Aberfoyle – the gateway to the Trossachs. Had a wander, licked a Scottish Tablet flavoured ice cream, and made another impulsive decision. I was too late to sort out a train ride on the Glenfinnon (sp) viaduct, featured in Harry Potter but I do love trains. Perhaps a bit of a ride from the nearest station would suffice. Nearest station was just down the road from my B&B in Balloch, so I drove back and found parking. Unable to buy a ticket at the station I found myself swept on to the train to Glasgow, considering a long ride there and back. One minute before the train pulled out I leapt back off it and it pulled out. Whew. I’d even now be making my way home if I’d stayed on that seat.

Instead I did what I vastly preferred and went back to the cosy lounge in B&B to sip tea and read the book I’d bought at Edinburgh book fair.

I’ve been back to The Settlers in Bannoch for that excellent salmon meal and am now snuggled in bed with rain outside again.

Tomorrow: the Lake District.

Day 19 – Gartocharn, Loch Lomond

Sadly, my current blog has reached its full quota in space so I am unable to post pics! I’ve decided instead to simply write up the journey and add pics when I post to facebook or twitter.

This morning I enjoyed a leisurely start in my huge apartment in Falkland before going down to the restaurant for a sturdy Scottish breakfast minus haggis and beans (for a change). Now you’d think that would set me up for the day but think again.

By 10am I met up with my two Mancunian friends (Liverpool is close enough, surely). We sipped our coffee and I negotiated the unsteady territory of Paula’s accent and speed of speech. 30 mins later we were joined by Meg Minick who lives in Falkland, and who could provide many little snippets about the Outlander portions filmed in the locale. I believe I have become multilingual if only in accents.

After some rib-crushing farewells we parted company: two to the distant south, one to work in St Andrews and me to my ongoing holiday (shrieks of cackling laughter).

I paid for the house and garden ticket to view the gothic- looking Falkland palace. Up two flights of curling staircase each room boasted an elderly warden who spoke enthusiastically about the room and items in their charge. It is a palace still in the list of royal residences – and has a long and colourful history going back to er, late 14th century/early 15th. Once more Mary Queen of Scots apparently spent time there, and various of her forebears. It was under the care of Keepers for much of its life. Cromwell did some major damage to it, and its ruins were renovated – at least in the front – by the fabulously rich Earl of Bute in late Victorian times. It has the only royal catholic chapel among all the residences of the Queen.

I enjoyed the stories, tried to hold the thread of the kings and queens in chronological order in my head (and failed) and stumbled out into the gardens for fresh air.

Which reminds me: when the girls arrived yesterday they sat on the chair outside Falkland church waiting for me. (Prepare yourselves for a ghost story!) After an hour a portly woman with dog collar on and holding a set of keys came out of the church and introduced herself. Spookily neither can remember her name. She invited them inside but they declined, so she left by way of the gate, locking it behind her. Half an hour later a man in comfortable clothes clutching his own keys stepped through the gate muttering that he liked it left open. When told that the vicar had shut it behind her, he said, astonished, “What vicar?” He knew of no such woman!

Jamie may not be the only ghost in the square.

I had another cup of tea and put the direction to my B&B in Loch Lomond into Apple maps. A mere 1.5 hours later I pulled in to a tiny village called Gartocharn – and had to back track a little way to the Schoolhouse I’d passed. Here – despite the drizzle that has fallen constantly since I arrived- I am installed in a comfy room with ensuite for two nights and couldn’t be happier. I’ve rested, brushed myself down, and gone out in the car to find a restaurant. 15 mins away there was one and I ate a delicious teriyaki salmon on bed of lettuce with the obligatory side of chips.

Home again I’m sitting in bed watching the rain come down over fields beside me.

Until tomorrow then…

Day 18 – a surprise in Falkland

I followed the advice of Fiona Potter this morning and set off along the coastal road north of Edinburgh and following the upper edge of the Firth of Forth. (How I love saying that!)

At Kirkcaldy I took a photo of the huge expanse of ocean and then pinpointed the Dysart harbour and the setting for another famous Outlander scene. In Season 2, Jamie and Claire take ship and it is set here in this quaint harbour.

I settled in for a much-wanted coffee and warm roll, gazing out at the scene above. Then I pointed the nose of the car towards St Andrews and before 30 mins had passed found myself in this golfing mecca, filled with many ancient religious ruins – and some not so ruined – and stopped for proper lunch.

I headed back westwards towards Falkland, my place I was stopping for the night, thrilled to know I’d be staying in Mrs Baird’s lodgings from the show. Loved the rolling pastures and newly mown fields.

Before long I was pulling in to Falkland and I found the carpark and then set off to register and find out if there was a closer place to park.

Please grasp how great my surprise when I was hailed by two women sitting on a seat in the church grounds.

It was Sarah Berry from Manchester and her friend Pamela from Liverpool, both of them driven up to join me (unbeknown to me) in Falkland. They’d been waiting hours!! Both had stayed the previous night in the Art Gallery studio B&B and Sarah had kept the secret of her trip up to surprise me for weeks. I was speechless (for about 1 minute) and we have not stopped talking since.

We’ve had a fine afternoon tea together, seen me settled into my spacious apartment at Mrs Baird’s:

And sipped a spot of pink gin in their own rooms.

We wandered down to the local for a particularly fresh haddock and chips meal and were almost the last ones out at 10ish. Have continued our conversation at their rooms and now at midnight I have walked home looking for Jamie’s ghost at midnight.

It has been a glorious day!

Day 17 p.s. – still Edinburgh

Couldn’t leave Edinburgh without another go at the Festival so I went to ‘The Best of Scottish Comedy’ tonight and cackled away at what I could interpret through thick Scottish accents. My poignant glimpse of the castle as I sought the bus to get home.

Day 17 – last day in Edinburgh

This morning I set off at 10ish to make my way to Charlotte Square and the Edinburgh Book Festival, where my faithful Scottish friend Fiona Potter was meeting me.

It was near deserted when I arrived but filled up fast. A number of pavilions and coffee places, the spectacular Speigeltent, (one of which regularly turns up in Auckland), and hordes of school children. Soon my friend arrived and great was the rejoicing thereof.

I know Fiona because of Outlander and through twitter, and we met for the first time in 2015 when I came to Scotland to drive myself around the filming locations. She is someone I always hope to see when I come. Again in 2017 she showed me around New Lanark – the cotton mill and town not far from her home. Today we enjoyed a long catchup and then browsed the books. I purchased a paperback about a man living in the wilds of the Highlands with an endeavour to save a number of threatened Scottish creatures from extinction.

I was hearted to see my favourite author’s books on sale:

We ate a salad for lunch and then headed in to the Speigeltent to hear two crime/thriller authors discuss their books. It was refreshing to hear some of their stories and ways of writing their characters and plot outlined.

Time for a restorative cup of tea and then the walk back to one of the main streets to go our separate ways. I hope I have opportunity to see Fiona again!

I am now hunched in my hovel of a room resting and considering the plans for the evening. I’ll leave you with this multi-coloured floral facade I passed on the way home.