With apologies to Tony Hawks for the abuse of his book title “Around Ireland with a fridge” – an excellent book (buy)
We took time out in November 2000 and drove around bits of England and Scotland (1377 miles in total), aiming to be in Ballater in the middle of the week to stay with some friends at their time share lodge. This is what we did.
Stage One – Home, Hull
The first stage of our journey was to Hull, where my parents live. This day was a bit of a sad start to our holiday, as we were interring the ashes of my Grandma who had died a month earlier. All went according to plan, and after driving up the M1 we arrived in good time to have some lunch before heading off to the local church, to interr the ashes near those of my Grandfather. After the service, we headed off back home, compared photos with my Parents of our trip to Paris the week before. We headed off about 45 minutes away to “Wolds Village” a restaurant in a small East Yorkshire village named Bainton where we had a lovely meal.
Stage Two – Hull, Newcastle, Hexham
We left Hull at around 10am and headed up the M1 towards Newcastle. We stopped off to have a look at the Angel of the North, which we thought was an impressive sight, although I know of many people who don’t like it. The Angel of the North is built out of 200 tonnes of weathering steel. It rises 20 metres and has a wing span of 54 metres.
We continued up the A1 for a little way until we took the A69 towards Newcastle. I did my degree in Newcastle and hadn’t visited the city for over 6 years, so this was a perfect opportunity to have a look around. Richard had only ever been through it on a train, so it was a whole new place for him. We drove into Newcastle via Fenham and stopped to look at the house I used to live in. It used to be a typical student house, but it now looks like someone has bought it and done it out. It looks a LOT better. We then drove down into the city and parked up for a couple of hours whilst I gave Rich the guided tour around the University and down through the town. It was still recognisable as the city I spent 3 years in, although as with anywhere, there were new buildings, and new shops. We grabbed a bite to eat before heading down to the quayside and doing the “touristy” bit of Newcastle, the bridges, the quayside and the castle keep.
As it was starting to get dark, we started the drive back out the A69 into Northumbria and towards Hexham where we planned to stay for the evening. Armed with our new B&B guide, we drove around the town before finding a car park. We went for a walk around the town to find somewhere likely to stay and ended up at the Royal Hotel, which was really lovely. After a bit of a relax, we headed to an Italian restaurant, Fortini’s, a few doors down from the hotel for a very pleasant meal.
Stage Three – Hadrian’s wall, Alnwick, Holy Island, North Berwick
After a great breakfast, in a really lovely room at the Royal Hotel, we headed off towards Hadrian’s wall. After driving through the mist we stopped at Housesteads roman fort and museum, one of the best preserved forts along Hadrian’s wall. The mist really added to the appeal.
It was a really interesting place to wander around, and has examples of many different types of buildings, hospital, commander’s house, latrines with a rudimentary flush system. The Romans were very clever people.
We moved on from here, and considered stopping at Chester’s fort too, but decided we were a bit Roman’d out and so we headed on our way up through Northumbria. We stopped in Alnwick in mid-afternoon for a cup of tea, and a slice of cake in a lovely little coffee house called Grannies. We had a quick look around the town, and a look at the castle before driving off again.
We decided to pay a quick visit to Holy Island, which was definitely a good idea. You have to check the tide times before heading over the causeway, so we made sure we had plenty of time. We parked up for a little while and watched the sun setting over Lindisfarne Priory and Castle.
Our original aim had been to stop in Berwick upon Tweed for the evening, but we decided to press on for an extra hour or so and head over the border into Scotland and towards North Berwick. We arrived in North Berwick and started the accommodation hunt again. Quite a few of the places appeared to be shut for the winter, but we drove around a bit more. We stopped and enquired at a hotel but although they were open, they didn’t appear to want any guests (the owner’s were away and the bloke left in charge frankly couldn’t be bothered – this was the Blenheim House Hotel). We were just about to leave North Berwick and drive on towards Edinburgh when we saw the Harbour House Hotel. This was a lovely place, we stayed in Room 1 which was really spacious. The landlady, Sheila, recommended a couple of eateries, and so we headed off to one of them, Miller’s Bistro and had a really pleasant meal. We were very lucky, as we’d decided to eat early and so arrived at the Bistro just before they closed down (they were closing early for a couple of weeks due to poor trade). We watched a bit of tv in the room, and caught the “What the Roman’s did for us” programme on BBC2 which had some footage from Housesteads fort… how strange.
Stage Four – North Berwick, GlenShee, Ballater
After breakfast, we headed down to the beach at North Berwick and had a bit of a wander around. There is a Sea Bird Centre there, which we didn’t visit, but whilst watching the sea we saw quite a lot of different Sea Birds. There is a cross near the front, which is quite poignant as it is dedicated to a girl of 19 from Glasgow who drowned whilst saving a young boy’s life.
We headed off towards Edinburgh and drove on over the Forth Bridge and along towards Perth. We stopped at Perth for a short shopping trip, primarily to replace Rich’s hat and gloves that got lost somewhere around North Berwick. We found a really excellent clothes shop, and whilst we didn’t get any hats or gloves from there, Rich did find a great jacket. We found hats and gloves in another shop and so our detour was successful.
Driving out from Perth, we chose to go along the A93, which took us past the Meikleour Beech hedge. We’d seem something on the tv about this hedge not that long ago and so it had a bit more interest to us that it may have otherwise had. It holds the world record for the tallest hedge at an average height of 100 feet. It is very impressive.
We continued along the A93 and after a lot of hills and a lot of twists and turns we started seeing snow on the hillsides. This was a lovely view. We stopped at the Spittal of Glenshee Hotel for some lunch, and to get some more petrol before driving on to the Glenshee ski resort and getting out into the snow.
From Glenshee it’s quite a short drive to Ballater, where we were to stay with Kate and Ali for 3 nights. They have a timeshare in the Craigendarroch timeshare complex. We arrived to find that they both had bad colds. This didn’t really bother us too much, as we were both tired anyway and so we had a quiet evening in the lodge.
A couple of days in Ballater
It was a wet and miserable day today, and neither Kate nor Ali were feeling brilliant, so we had a fairly quiet day. We headed off to Millers for lunch, a strange sort of a place, dealing in everything from fancy goods, to tractor videos and cattle feed. I even managed to get some Christmas shopping sorted out – result! It has a nice cafe with good food and an excellent dessert trolley. After we’d eaten all the desserts we could manage we headed off to Banchory and had a quick wander around the shops there, buying a few more Christmas presents. We then headed to Aboyne and a bit more shop wandering before heading back to the lodge for an evening of Scrabble and tv watching.
Our second day, the weather was much kinder to us, and the view from the lodge window was enough to encourage us to do something a bit more exciting today. That decided, we headed off to the Linn of Dee, near Braemar, which is a waterfall. It is a lovely place, very quiet and very wooded, and really restful (if a little cold at that time of year).
We got back into the car and headed back to Braemar, where we wandered around a few more shops, and I decided to buy a ridiculous hat (no photo as yet, but I’m sure one will turn up sooner or later…). It was quite pleasant wandering around, and Ali met up with one of his Aunt’s in one of the shops. We then drove back to Ballater to do a bit of food shopping.
After we’d got food for the evening, we headed off towards Glen Muick. We parked up and walked along towards the Loch, but by this time it was getting very cold and so we didn’t hang around a great deal. It was lovely, and again the sky played it’s part too with lovely pink clouds in view. We had a look around the visitor centre and learnt about some of the animals which live in the area before going back to the car, and back to the lodge.
Stage Five – Ballater, Blantyre, Grenta Green, Keswick
We said Goodbye to Kate and Ali and headed back along the route we’d come, past Glenshee where quite a lot of the snow had melted away, over the Forth Road bridge again, and then we headed off towards Glasgow on the M80 and M8. We decided that we’d need a stop somewhere, and to avoid having to stop at a motorway services we decided to stop at the David Livingstone Centre at Blantyre. This is where David Livingstone, the famous explorer, was born and brought up. It has been bought and converted into a museum and was a really pleasant place to stop off. It was very quiet indeed, and the African cafe in the centre didn’t have a lot of food choice to offer us, but that wasn’t really a problem to us. We spent a bit of time wandering around the outside, but decided not to go around the museum part itself as we didn’t really have time.
We headed off down the M74 and stopped off at Gretna Green. This has probably got the most touristy gift shop I have ever seen in my life. The weather was appaling, and it was really really wet, so we weren’t inclined to spend a lot of time wandering around.
We had a look at some of the statues and then headed back into the car and continued our drive. We headed along the M6, past Carlisle and onto Penrith before taking a smaller road, the A66 into Keswick which is were we planned to stay for the night. Both the Lonely Planet Guide to Britain, and the B&B Guide had loads of entries for Keswick so we picked Allerdale House from it. This was an okay place, but wasn’t as good as the rest of the places we stayed. There was nothing wrong with it, it was clean and warm and everything, but it just wasn’t as pleasant. We wandered through Keswick, in the rain, and decided to eat in “Ye Olde Golden Lion” which was fine.
Stage Five – Castlerigg stone circle, Thirlmere, Wychbold, Drakes Broughton, Great Malvern
After breakfast, we jumped into the car and drove off to find the Castlerigg stone circle. This is probably the most impressive stone circle I’ve seen (in terms of size and quality of the stones – but bear in mind I’ve never been to Stonehenge). The circle is thought to have been built around the Neolithic (New Stone Age)period, around 3000BC and the heaviest stone is believed to be around 15 tonnes in weight. We were the only people there for quite a while and so we made the most of the peace and quiet to take some photos and film. As we were leaving another group of people arrived and so we left them to it.
We then drove along the A591 from Keswick, and stopped off at Thirlmere for a walk. We did a couple of walks in two different directions, one went to a view point, and then circled back to the car park, the other went down to the lake past a waterfall. It was a really pleasant spot and we had a very enjoyable stop there.
From Thirlmere we headed through Ambleside and on to the M6 to continue our journey Southwards. We’d been very lucky with the weather earlier in the day as it had stayed fine for us at Castlerigg and at Thirlmere, but driving along the M6 in the pouring rain is not fun at all. It is a boring enough stretch of road at the best of times but when your windscreen wipers are going as fast as they can it’s not the best.
Our next stop was at a village named Wychbold, in Worcestershire, which is the village Richard was born in. We were afraid we were going to be arrested or something as we walked around the street his Grandparent’s used to live in with a video camera. Thankfully we weren’t and we stopped at “The Poacher’s Pocket” pub for a spot of lunch.
After our stop, we drove on to Drakes Broughton. This is again in Worcestershire and is where Rich spent his childhood. So, again, we drove around with Rich playing spot the house. He took some more footage before we headed off.
We then headed off to Great Malvern, where we found lovely accomodation at the Bredon House Hotel with no problem whatsoever. This was a lovely place to stay and we were made to feel very welcome. The owners have gone to a lot of trouble, to have an area with guide books to the local area, menu’s from the local restaurants, suggested walks etc. This really impressed us. We went to one of the recommended local restaurants, White Season, a seafood restaurant which was really lovely indeed.
Stage Six – Worcestershire Beacon, Chipping Campden, Rollright, Home
After the breakfast of the trip (lots of different things on offer, fruit, youghurt as well as the traditional fried breakfast) we left the car in the hotel car park and walked up towards St Ann’s road to start the climb up to the Worcestershire beacon. This is the highest point on the Malvern Hills, and is reachable in about an hour from Great Malvern. It is mainly uphill though, and we lost the track once or twice, an OS map or similar would have been useful. The view from the top was excellent, could see a good distance in many different directions, although at the very top, where the marker is there was a very severe wind blowing. After an appreciation of our surroundings, we headed off back down, going past St Ann’s Well, before getting back to the hotel to collect the car.
We headed off and drove around the hills once before driving off towards Chipping Campden, one of the more unspolit market towns in the Cotswolds. This was a really pleasant little spot and we had a very pleasant lunch in one of the tea rooms.
Having looked at the map, we discovered some more stones were marked and so we headed in search of them near Chipping Norton. These were the Rollright Stones, consisting of Kings Stone, the Kings Men (the stone circle) and the Whispering Knights. The stone circle was nowhere near as impressive as CastleRigg, mainly because the stone used is different and so they are not as well preserved. The Whispering Knights are the oldest, and are believed to be part of a megalithic tomb. the others are believed to be around 2000 years old.
After looking at these, we ran out of interesting places to stop at, and so heading on to the M40 and back home.