Starting out on a lovely drive through the mountains we passed snow gates and snow poles edging the road. At Glenshee there were ski lifts in lines up the mountainside, and on what was a fairly sunny day it was hard to imagine it all covered in snow, very serene, quiet and cold I expect and not my idea of fun at all.
Arriving in Pitlochry we found it to be a really nice town, individual shops, hotels and pubs all catering for large numbers of tourists, there for walking, cycling, wildlife, fishing and later in the year, the shooting season. The river Hummel runs through the town and a hydro-electric dam creates a large still lake behind it with great reflections, and down one side of the dam is a ‘fish ladder’ enabling returning salmon to negotiate up river to their spawning ground.
Pitlochry was full of flowers, scented roses, formal gardens, tubs at the station, and a wickerwork golfing lady surrounded by red begonias. I really liked the decorated tall black ‘fish tailed’ signpost for the National Cycle Network giving distances of towns on the route.
Visiting a woodland walk called The Hermitage near Dunkeld, the pathway was lined with towering pine trees as we made our way to the waterfall gorge. It was thundering with white water after so much recent rain which made it quite spectacular, the smooth rock faces worn away by the action of the river. We enjoyed the first half of a 5 mile walk through forest, open pathways and rocky slopes, until the rain started while we were in open farmland with no shelter, it did ease eventually but not before we got quite wet.
We stayed at Loch of Lowes managed by the RSPB and for which you need permission. We were attending a talk about beavers and their reintroduction which was fascinating. Learning that they were in the loch was so exciting and we stayed up until 10pm in the hide, then got there before 7am next day in the hope of seeing one, but we didn’t.
What we could see and hear really easily was a family of ospreys with two fledged , near adult sized chicks. We watched a few fishing attempts by the young birds resulting in wet birds with no fish, then an adult showed them how it was done, returning with the fish to the nest. I only had my mobile phone and our telescope, so I put one against the other to take a few awful photos, but it makes a memory when looking back in years to come.
We met up with a couple from Falkirk, last seen on South Uist where we had spent an evening chatting together. We had come to The Helix to see the Kelpies, horses heads standing 30 meters high made of steel construction clad in stainless steel, they were built in 2013 and made a wonderful feature next to the canal locks. Again it was a grey day but in a brief bit of sunshine, the horse sculptures glinted silver against the clouds. Walking around the parkland afterwards we found a wickerwork sculpture and the wildflowers reminded me of the beautiful Uist Islands.
We enjoyed the opportunity to meet more friends for few hours on the outskirts of Edinburgh, before finally making our way to Yellowcraig Campsite near North Berwick for two days. My cousin and his wife visited us and showed us a lesser known nearly deserted beach where we walked, Bass Rock off shore in the background and the ruins of Tantallon Castle further along the beach looking picturesque on top of the cliffs.
Leaving Scotland behind I drove to Lindisfarne in Northumberland to visit Holy Island, it has always seemed fascinating, making sure of the tide times we set off across the causeway to explore. The shell of Lindisfarne Priory was quite a site with the red stone walls worn into great shapes by wind and rain, and numerous smaller structures, it was best seen from a higher vantage point to appreciate the scale of the building. A smaller church had been built close by, we didn’t go in as a service was taking place, but, I did manage to sneak a photo of a great wooden statue on men carrying a coffin, weird I know, but I liked it.
Walking half a mile over the island to the castle perched high on a rock, we could see rain clouds gathering and luckily got to shelter before it came crashing down. Inside the 16th century castle, much work was carried out in the early 1900s to renovate it, showing the reddish stone contrasting with the plaster walls and stone floors. With a large stone fireplace and range in the kitchen food was prepared for many visitors who stayed at the castle. A terrace looks out over the coastline and it must have been quite nerve wracking as the tide covered the causeway, especially on stormy occasions at the edge of the North Sea.
Dashing over to the small walled garden designed by Gertrude Jekyll around 1912, it was a haven of flowers, full of colour and lots of insects, butterflies and lots of bees. So fortunate the sun was shining at that moment to really appreciate such a lovely space. We could see it was all change again out to sea, dark brooding clouds meant we could hardly see across the bay.
Luck was on our side, after a very fast walk back, quickly buying a fresh crab sandwich and punnet of garden strawberries, we reached Bessie just as the heavens opened in torrential fashion. It was so loud and heavy as we ate lunch, then drove back onto the mainland, passing a young family of 5 on bicycles who had at least 3 miles to go before they could shelter under a tree, they must have been drenched to the skin.
From our campsite at Beadnell Bay we walked into the next village of Seahouses to catch the boat for a cruise around the Farne Islands. Seals were lazing around on the rocks with huge cliffs of guillimots, kittiwake and razorbills as we toured the seas around various smaller islands. Finally landing on Inner Farne to see the puffins we certainly weren’t disappointed, there were several thousand, their numbers swelled as near adult chicks were out of the burrows. I loved their comical colourful faces contrasting with the black and white suit of feathers and the wobbling gait as they pattered backwards and forwards on large orange feet. I saw only one bird with the classic beak full of sand eels and was so chuffed to get a photo of it.
Also nesting on the island are lots of Arctic terns and a smaller number of sandwich terns, several with very small fluffy chicks, their nests hidden in the low growing vegetation alongside the walkways.
For our trip to Bamburgh Castle we had a brilliant blue sky and warm sunshine, the castle was high on the coast overlooking a huge sandy beach. Inside there were lots of rooms with furniture, China, paintings, porcelain figurines and weaponry.
With a slight detour to Craster for kippers, smoked salmon and herring marinated in Madeira, we also had a short walk through this lovely village and along the coast towards Dunstanburgh Castle. We didn’t go to the ruins as I had a long drive to Bedale in North Yorkshire, quite a small town but with significance to me; I was born in Bedales Cottage, however it was not in Yorkshire but in East Sussex. The town centre was very wide, with large cobbled areas to each side being used as parking, several interesting shops, an attractive church and after a good walk around we relaxed in the pretty back garden of The Three Coopers with drinks.
Our journey back home took us to Harrogate and South Shropshire visiting family, and Kidderminster to see friends, as we we completed our marathon trip to Scotland. We travelled 3,195 miles, and stayed 57 nights in 28 locations. Touring all around Scotland as well as visiting the islands of Mull, Skye, South Uist, Benbecula, North Uist, Harris and Lewis travelling in Bessie, as well as trips out to the smaller islands of Handa and Inner Farne by tourist boats. We saw some great birds too, golden eagle, white tailed eagle, osprey, black throated diver, great northern diver and corncrake, our full count was 115 species. It was a great experience, the midges didn’t bother us, and we saw and did so much.