A happy holiday

Firstly, thanks to everyone for their lovely messages on my blog, Facebook and Twitter whilst I’ve been travelling!

We returned home on Saturday from our two-week journey around the north of Scotland. We had a great time and fabulous weather too, so I’m a happy bunny.

But even better than that, I’ve made a big leap in progress with my bad back. But the good news is that my holiday seems to have worked a minor miracle, I can walk and stand for much longer than previously, and I certainly don’t have anywhere near as much pain either. Instead of a cocktail of painkillers I’m now existing on just Ibuprofen, so that’s good too. With the exception of around 200 miles I drove the whole way – a total of 2600 miles in two weeks – and that’s something I really didn’t think I’d be able to do even when we left home on 13th June.

Whilst we were up in Shetland I had a bit of a mishap; I fell over! I was standing in a ditch photographing some cute Shetland ponies and stepped backwards to move back onto the roadside. I slipped and fell backwards, landing quite hard on my bum and then my back. But I didn’t hit my head on the tarmac thankfully. After moving very carefully in case I’d caused nasty damage I managed to get back on my feet and move about without discomfort. Indeed it seems to have been something of a miracle cure, because I’ve definitely been ‘less worse’ than I was previously.

But I’m by no means out of the woods yet, still need to have hydrotherapy and physiotherapy, and I have to attend a pain management clinic shortly, but that’s principally about identifying how best to manage things going forward. It looks like I’m going to have a degree of back pain for some time to come, but at least I’ve got to a point where I can now reasonably look toward getting back to employment.

There’ll be a more detailed update with pics soon (I’m catching up with emails and other stuff).

Unst-oppable Yell-ing

My return to Shetland has, thus far, lived up to expectations, indeed exceeded them. We have been blessed with superb weather, yesterday especially.

I am enjoying visiting locations I remember from 1976 and 1988, and the discovery of new places of interest.

Marion loves the close-up encounters with the local wildlife, particularly puffins, but a meeting with a friendly otter as yet eludes her.

We’re both loving the profusion of wildflowers on roadside verges and meadows, deep carmine red campion, purple and blue orchids, though none yet as special as the “Primula Scotica” that Stromness Dragon found for M at Yesnaby, Orkney, on Thursday.

I took a tumble on Saturday morning whilst snapping away at a cute Shetland Pony family. Losing my footing, I fell backwards landing on my back which, in present circumstance, was not the best thing. Mario, not unnaturally, was very concerned for my welfare.

Amazingly, however, it appears to have worked a miracle because – after I stopped laughing out loud – I got carefully to my feet and found no appreciable discomfort, indeed if anything, less than previously.

Yesterday we travelled up to Hermaness NNR for a sight of my favourite lighthouse, Muckle Flugga. Despite earnest searches of the sea whilst crossing to Yell and then to Unst, we did not see a killer whale from the ferries, unlike Mirlnlass the previous evening. Wall to wall blue skies and warm with it, sea flat calm.

Hopefully when we see her this evening she’ll have some pics to show us!

Today we’re heading for Scalloway and the Shetland Bus Museum (not the 4 wheel variety), shopping in Lerwick and an evening crossing to Bressay to see Mirlnlass and Moreorlesssocks.

We depart Shetland tomorrow evening , headed for Cornhill upon Tweed.

Dragon’s Den (Orkney style)

Quick update from car park of Tesco in Kirkwall to report an absolutely fabulous encounter with the awesome Stromness Dragon.

Approaching it’s lair with quite some trepidation us three travellers were given a typically dragonian welcome – a warm one!

Fresh-baked scones and copious cups of tea later we set off on a grand tour, and what a tour indeed.

I’ll blog in more detail later when I can use my Mac instead of my iPhone, but we’ll be sailing for Lerwick with very happy memories of our time in Orcadia.

A huge public thank you to SD for taking us under it’s wings today.

The Old Man of Hoy says “Hi!”

In breezy drizzle the travellers have been welcomed to Orkney as the ferry slipped quickly passed the Old Man of Hoy a few minutes ago.

Unfortunately the forecast for the next 48 hours is not favourable but we don’t care two hoots about that.

The ferry is just turning into Hamnavoe, we’re close now to Stromness.

Both v excited about reaching Orkney at last. Molly very blasé though – to her it’s just another island to explore.

If it’s Tuesday, it must be Thurso

Taking advantage of free wireless connection at hotel to update my blog tonight.

Saturday (my birthday): departed the New Forest and headed steadily north for the border with deviations to Kendal and Carlisle en route. Overnighted at Annandale Water as per usual, but with an added excursion to Dumfries for a KFC supper, a first for Marion. My back held up remarkably well. Weather: gloriously sunny.

Sunday: Johnstonebridge to Ardrhu by Ballachulish via Glasgow and Oban. Took breakfast at the Dumbarton Little Chef (unremarkable), then halfway up Loch Lomond skewed west for Inveraray (with a flying visit to Loch Fyne Oysters at Cairndow).  Marion loved the historic town of Inveraray, particularly the architectural uniformity. A sharp shower of rain as we left the town, headed west for Connel (sunny again) and a loop down to Oban for a visit to McCaig’s Tower (a first visit for me as well as Marion). Heading north to Ardrhu we diverted to Port Appin bathed in sunshine and mirror still sea. And finally we arrived at Ardrhu to stay with P&D at their 1890s hunting lodge on Loch Linnhe.  I drove all the way from Johnstonebridge and felt remarkably well for it. The wonder of medication and a positive mind.

Monday: an early departure (well, 9.00am) with an ominous forecast of rain ahead.  North through Fort William to Invergarry and then west to Cluanie and Dornie, north/northeast to Stromeferry (no ferry) and Lochcarron, and finally to Applecross for a lunch date with J&C at Tigh Ruaraidh which was bathed in sunshine as had been the entire drive thus far. Two hours later we set off on our next leg of the day, destination Stoer by Lochinver. I already knew this would be a marathon drive in four hours available (we had a 7.00pm deadline for dinner), and we used the ‘fast’ inland route via Achnasheen and Garve (sunshine gave way to dark forbidding cloud) to Ullapool (sunny again), and then north of Ullapool turned left to Achiltibuie driving underneath Stac Pollaidh, and then turned sharp right onto the much-heralded (and greatly favoured by Wainwright) ‘Little Mad Road of Sutherland’ to Inverkirkaig and Lochinver, continuing on to Stoer and our overnight stop at Cruachan House (highly recommended). We arrived with fifteen minutes to spare before dinner! Later we took a drive out to Stoer Lighthouse and I gazed wistfully over to Lewis and Harris in the sparkling west.  Back still holding up remarkably well, but was not inclined to walk. Couldn’t have achieved so much without considerable dosages of painkillers.

Tuesday: scudding clouds with blue patches, weather forecast for heavy rain late afternoon and overnight. Headed for Clashnessie and Drumbeg, and thence to Kylesku and my all-time favourite bridge. We drove over it, and then back again, and down to the village and ferry slipway. Then back across the bridge, parked, and walked back over the bridge. Saw a seal swimming underneath the bridge. Patchy cloud with sunny spells set off the landscape beautifully, then north through Scourie to the Kyles of Durness.  Lunch at Balnakeil Bay (very short, sharp shower of rain), then to Tongue. Instead of crossing the causeway we (as recommended by Wainwright) we diverted along the original road to Kinloch for a spectacular view of Ben Loyal bathed in sunshine. Bettyhill next, I wish that we had had time to take the Strathnaver Trail, somewhere I’ve wanted to visit for a long time but I’m afraid it will have to wait another visit to the north. And then we arrived in Thurso, found our super B&B for the night (Pentland Lodge House – again, highly recommended).  Fish and chips for supper and a flying visit to John o’Groats for Marion’s benefit. We’ve to be up early in the morning (7.00am breakfast) and a two mile drive to Scrabster Harbour for early Stromness ferry to …. ORKNEY!  Pills popped regularly during the day but I do feel a lot better nonetheless.

Really looking forward to meeting Stromness Dragon on Thursday.

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Summer holiday reading

holidayreadingA week before I head off for my great expedition to Orkney and Shetland I’ve been giving thought to what my holiday reading is going to be.

These titles are under consideration. Have you any others I ought to be checking out?

Return of the Killer Midges by Cal MacBrayne. Utterly convincing action-thriller about what happens when a top secret scientific experiment goes horribly wrong and a resort is attacked by these giant marauding creatures. The heroine, feisty blonde tour rep Marion, teams up with troubled, sensitive bar waiter John to fight off the attack. The scene in which all the sun-loungers collapse simultaneously is expertly handled.

No Orange Future by Umbria Soltan. The first novel by this promising young newcomer follows five friends just down from St Andrews as they go pony trekking in Moldova and are soon forced drastically to re-assess their lives and their relationships when they realise to their horror that there is no mobile phone signal. The effect on the group is truly gruesome. Contains some mild cannibalism.

The Ryanair Bumper Fun BookA low-cost, no-frills easy read for the beach. Totally undemanding – except that you have to collect your own copy from the printers in Bicester. Allow three hours for queuing and make sure you are in the right queue. Take proof of age, plus two forms of identity, such as a utility bill and a driving licence. You must be prepared to cut the pages yourself. Some copies are incomplete. No refunds.

A Hundred and One Worst Bidet JokesCould while away a few hours as you are stuck on the Paris périphérique and might even bring a smile to your lips. A sequel to the fairly hilarious Footprints in the Gents.

What’s Bugging Montezuma? by Professor Alistair Imodium. An absorbing and scholarly study of the reign of the Aztec emperor Montezuma II, from 1502 to 1520. It gives the most detailed account so far of his betrayal by the Spanish and does not spare us in listing his grievances against Europeans. One is left with the strong feeling that these crimes, even today, cry out for revenge. It’s a long book (566 pages) but just the thing if you are stuck in your hotel room for five or six days.

Sleeps Six by Cole d’Cottage. This really is your run-of-the-mill detective yarn. Serial killer brutally slays the holidaying occupants (so what else is new?) of delightful traditional Hebridean blackhouse on South Uist and the chief suspect (yawn, yawn) is the handsome young man who comes every day to skim the drowned midges off the swimming pool (which no-one uses anyway). It’s drearily predictable, right down to the mundane details like the strong winds and the three-day power cut. Still, it’s all worth it, because every page has been steeped in Avon’s Skin So Soft.

You Absolute Bastards, by Edward Sunblock. An indictment of all air travellers, showing how every one of us is responsible for the carbon emissions that are destroying the environment. Anybody who cares about the planet should pack this book in his or her hand luggage.

Last Call for Stornoway by Cynthia Pedalo. A superbly detailed portrait of five generations of people waiting at Departure Gate 5 at Glasgow Airport. It traces the upheavals that have occurred over this period, the subtle shifts in culture and attitudes and the ups and downs of all the families. A remarkable document of our recent history.

Delsey by Sue Villa. These are essentially poems of desolation and loss by one of our leading exponents on these themes. The one which gives the volume its title, Delsey, is a lament, written in baggage reclaim, for a much loved suitcase, as the lingering hope that it may yet appear on the carousel is finally crushed. I also admired EU Citizen, in which she has a last glimpse of her lover before losing him for ever, because she has joined the slower queue at Passport Control.