Life’s a beach

Bathsheba

Life’s a beach. I’ve walked on a few today. All of them clean white coral sand and deliciously warm surf.

Unfortunately these lovely beaches are nowhere in the UK. I’m back in Barbados, visiting the same friends with whom I stayed 50 weeks ago, P&D. I arrived from London yesterday (Gatwick was 3C, Bridgetown 30C).

No hassle with camouflage shorts this time around, so once I’d clear immigration and baggage reclaim I picked my rental car (a Suzuki Vitara) and headed to Bridgetown and Prospect where I’m staying. The sun was going down as I arrived in Prospect and I enjoyed a leisurely evening catching up with P&D.

We were in Bridgetown bright and early this morning to go on a special slavery heritage trail tour. Unfortunately we didn’t make it onto the coach as it was sold out (the advert P had seen for didn’t say that booking was either required or desirable, so he didn’t). The next tour will be on the 20th which is too late for me ūüė¶

So, after returning P home and gathering up my bits and pieces, I set off on a ‘get my bearings’ day out. I headed east for St John’s Church, via Drax Hall, to see the grave of the country’s Prime Minister who died very recently. The attendant at the church told me that they’d had great difficulty locating a free plot in the historic graveyard (the oldest identified grave is from 1666!).

After St John’s I needed to put petrol in the tank which meant heading back to Bridgetown as that’s where most of the filling stations are located on the island. Certainly my tourist map didn’t indicate any where I was. Since I was in Bridgetown I decided to go to the Barbados Concorde Experience. I saw Concorde at Heathrow many times, and recall it flying overhead at some point in the past, but I’d never been ‘up close and personal’. That was fixed today.

And then I headed for the beaches.¬†There are beaches everywhere. Along the east coast they are wide and wind-blown. Here the shore is pounded by the Atlantic (there’s nothing for 3,000 miles east to Banjul in The Gambia) and is consequently popular with surfers who come from all over the world.

On the calmer south and west coasts, you can walk for miles along unbroken white sand beaches, though the way is often barred by clusters of coral rocks jutting out to sea which create delightful hidden coves. These are often difficult to access, or form part of some fabulous resort or private development, but it is still possible to find a beach all to one’s self. All along the shore large and small beaches are broken by coral formations, the soft coral rocks weathered by the ocean surf, forming abstract sculptures pleasing to an artist’s eye.

In the north, coral and sandstone cliffs rise straight out of the sea reaching up to a hundred feet in height. But even here, you’ll find the occasional sheltered cove.

I’ve done several beaches today. Here are the highlights:

1.  A walk on the beach at [the ridiculously expensive] Crane Resort. Yes its quite something but there are better beaches, almost within spitting distance, that remain unspoilt by such development. Not my kind of beach Рby a country mile!

2.  A walk on the fabulously unspoilt Bathsheba beach Рa sharp contrast to Crane and much more to my liking.

3. ¬†Several rum punches and lunch at The Round House overlooking Bathsheba’s pools (see previous link for details). This was my favourite eatery on my last visit, and when it comes to location, only Applecross in Scotland beats it for sensory delight.

4. ¬†A walk on Brandons beach on the outskirts of Bridgetown. The cruise ship terminal is visible away to the south, and this afternoon I was able to see Queen Mary 2, Independence of the Seas and a ‘Celebrity Cruises’ liner that I did not recognise, plus a traditional four-masted schooner berthed near (and dwarfed by) QM2.

Then it was back home to check out all my photos and decide what to do tomorow (a walk along the beach before the sun gets too high, application of copious quantities of Piz Buin by the pool, and later a visit to a Barbados Horticultural Society open garden).

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"The best road trip you've ever taken"

Oh that’s easy! It was in June 2009 and was a two-and-a-half week clockwise circuit of the far north of Scotland.

A road trip in Scotland is always a thoroughly enjoyable experience, though the presence of white camper vans and caravans on single track roads in the far north of the country can get a bit tedious after a while. But, hey, we’re all on holiday so let’s try and chill out!

We set off from Southampton, up the west side of England taking in Cumbria and the Scottish Borders, and then up the west coast via Glasgow, Fort William, Applecross, Ullapool, Lochinver and Kylesku all the way to the very top (Durness), then across to Thurso. A leap across the Pentland Firth to Orkney where we spent a thoroughly enjoyable day with the Stromness Dragon, and thence to Shetland, the land of the midnight sun.

A view of Muckle Flugga and its lighthouse (see picture), the most northerly island of the United Kingdom, was our turning point starting with the overnight ferry south from Lerwick to Aberdeen.

Muckle Flugga and its lighthouse

We then drove down the east coast of England from Northumberland through the Yorkshire Dales, Derbyshire (with a stop at Hardwick Hall) and Nottinghamshire to London, and finally home to Southampton.

You can read all about it at https://x333xxx.wordpress.com/2009/06/16/if-its-tuesday-it-must-be-thurso/

PS: I wanted to better it this year with a drive to Nordkapp up through Sweden to the far north of Norway. But that was vetoed by the management. I’ll be trying again next year ….

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My Favourite Place in the World: Applecross

Have you tried using Plinky? Its great for inspiring the written word. Visit www.plinky.com to find out more.

Applecross is easily my favourite place in the world. Without equal or question. Definitely.

The Applecross Peninsula lies in the old county of Wester Ross and projects westwards from the mainland towards Raasay and the Isle of Skye. Shaped like a west-facing axe blade, its neck is formed by the single track A896 running from Shieldaig in the north to Kishorn in the south. Using this road it is possible for anyone travelling the west coast to bypass Applecross altogether: but anyone who does so has missed some of the best scenery in Scotland.

Much of Applecross’s attraction lies in its remoteness and its distinctive history. In 1822 a road was built from Kishorn in the east and over the Bealach na Ba, or Pass of the Cattle to Applecross village.

Until the early 1950s the road surface was still rough gravel and very difficult to clear in winter, meaning it could be blocked for weeks on end. During these periods Applecross returned to its earlier “island” existence, relying wholly on the MacBrayne’s steamer service to Stornoway and Kyle of Lochalsh for its links with the outside world.

And in winter the steamer only called en route from Kyle to Stornoway, not on the return trip. This meant anyone in Applecross wanting to catch a Glasgow train at Kyle of Lochalsh, ten miles or less away as the crow flies, had to travel out by rowing boat to meet the Stornoway-bound steamer in Applecross Bay; travel to Stornoway; wait perhaps several hours for the return steamer to Kyle; then re-cross the often turbulent Minch. It was a great improvement when a direct ferry service from Kyle to Toscaig, near the south west tip of the peninsula, started the mid 1950s (it has long ceased to operate).

And until 1975 Applecross comprised of two very distinct communities. The 1822 “Parliamentary” road to the village of Applecross from Kishorn continued down the coast via Camusterrach to Toscaig linking them together and to the outside world (to some extent). But there was no road at all north of the village of Applecross, only paths and tracks suitable at best for horses or hardy motorcycles. As a result the many settlements dotting the north coast were accessible only by sea.

This was fine in the days when travel and transport by sea were the norm for much of western Scotland, and in 1884 as many as 400 people were recorded as living along the north coast of the peninsula. But in the age of the internal combustion engine this spelled death for many of these north coast communities. By the time the road was built along the coast from Applecross to meet the A896 near Shieldaig it was far too late, and most of the population had left. A commemorative stone with a plaque near the Shieldaig end of the road records the opening after five years of construction of the Shieldaig to Kenmore section on 11 May 1970. It was to be a further five years until the whole road from Applecross to Shieldaig was finished.

All this means that for today’s visitors there are two routes into and out of Applecross. I’d always recommend you get the full Applecross experience by driving in from Kishorn over the Bealach na Ba, then leaving by the coast road to Shieldaig.

The Bealach na Ba rises to 2053ft in height from sea level in about five miles, and is the most spectacular pass in Scotland. It also provides some of the most challenging driving in the country. It is single track throughout and the warning signs at its foot, including one (unique in Scotland) deterring learner drivers, should be taken seriously. Another warns that the road is often closed in winter conditions (and it is!). The crux of the pass is as the road climbs the headwall of the corrie to the east of the highest point. Here it zig-zags upwards in a way that feels more alpine than Scottish.

Having made the effort to get to the top of the Bealach na Ba, from either direction, it is worth pausing in one of the parking areas to take in the views. It is also possible from here to explore some of the surrounding peaks with the benefit of a 2000ft+ start. If you do, remember that these are serious mountains, and most have very high cliffs on their eastern sides. You don’t have to stray very far from your car to get into trouble if the clouds blow in from the sea.

The road emerges on the west coast at the village of Applecross. It is easy to believe that this is the main focus of settlement on the western side of the peninsula. As a result many visitors overlook the settlements further south. This is a shame, because in many ways these are some of the most charming coastal villages in Scotland, with Camusterrach and Ard-dhubh being especially unspoiled by intrusive modern development; while Toscaig and its now ruined pier are reminders of the old ferry service to Kyle of Lochalsh.

Why do I love it so? Perhaps its the sheer isolation of the place (two hours from the nearest supermarket – ‘civilisation’), or the commitment involved in getting there – 12 miles along a narrow mountain road (hairpin bends, very narrow road with long drops). Or maybe its the stunning West Highland scenery and seascapes with unforgettable sunsets at any time of the year.

Whatever the reason Applecross has everything I’ve ever desired in place: history, heritage, landscape, solitude, wild weather, flora and fauna. And I’ve had wonderful holidays there each year since 1988 and, I hope, will continue to do so for many years to come. And in the fullness of time I will be buried there.

I’m looking forward to returning for Christmas 2010 and have already a diary date for October 2011 for a further visit.

Find out more about Applecross at www.applecross.uk.com.

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Achiltibuie bound

In twenty minutes’ time (3am), Marion will awaken and our summer adventure will begin!

This morning we are setting off on a 739 mile drive north to Achiltibuie in Wester Ross.

We’ll be deviating from the usual route to visit Galloway Forest Park and the Burrell Collection in Glasgow.

We’ll be rendezvousing at the Burrell with my cousin Stephen Landon who has come over from New York to holiday with us. I’m really looking forward to showing him around Wester Ross and Sutherland – he’s not been north of Edinburgh before today.

During our week overlooking the Summer Isles we will visit Lochinver, Kylesku, Kinlochbervie, Durness, Ullapool, Gairloch and Applecross.

We’ll be popping in to see John & Caroline Wales at Tigh Ruaraidh. Stephen specifically wants to see it’s location.

At the moment the weather isn’t looking promising up there but we don’t mind much. Just one sunny day is not too much to ask though!

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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I’m twittering our movements (as O2 signal permits) so you can check out our current whereabouts at¬†www.twitter.com/x333xxx if you wish!