Monday, 23 September 2013

A Scottish Stay-cation.

The last time I took a proper leave of absence from work was back in February in order to finish off my flat redecoration, so I was very much in need of some relaxing time off and time away from home.

Despite all my world wanderings over the years, I have not holidayed in my own country for an extremely long time, so it was about time I had a look in my own backyard again.

The West coast was once again the focus of our attention and we had various ideas of where we would travel to, but of course being Scotland much of this would depend on the weather. It was hoped that we would have a mixed holiday bag of walking, road cycling and mountain biking, and stay in hotels, hopefully throwing in a spot of camping a long the way.

The starting point of my week of fun was Arran, a place I had not been since a family holiday back in 1978.

Me and my Bro back in 1978. Goat Fell in the background.

I was very much looking forward to going back, even more so given the fact that I was to be staying in the very luxurious Auchrannie Spa Resort. I have stayed in a wide variety of living quarters over my travels, but nothing this fancy, ever!

However, in order to get to the beautiful Arran, you do of course have to take the ferry. Not my most favourite mode of travel but thankfully only a half hour crossing and the waters were extremely calm. In order to get the maximum holiday time, an early sailing time was booked. Arriving in plenty time, we arrived in a sunny Ardrossan with great anticipation and excitement. This excitement was to be tinged with a slight apprehension, when the lady in the check in booth, told us that our sailing was actually booked for the following day!!! Thankfully, even although it was a bank holiday weekend the early crossing seemed to be on the quiet side and we were rebooked and boarded with no further problems.


All aboard the Cal Mac.

The day was so gorgeous, upon arrival we headed straight to Goat Fell and walk up the highest mountain on the island. It stands at around 874m which I think makes it a corbett. The path was quite busy with people but it was well worth it for the views from the top.

On the way up.

Looking down towards Brodick.

Blue skies.

Rescue helicopter practice.

Nice clouds.

The top.

The Auchrannie resort did not disappoint. The room was fairly spacious and nicely decorated and the bed was extremely comfy, what more could a girl ask for? A surprise bottle of bubbly certainly helped ease me into my lap of luxury.

A big part of travelling for me is the food and the often incredible difficulty I have trying to find anything gluten free. This always becomes more apparent when eating out in restaurants. I can not fault the menus and assistance I had from the staff at the Auchrannie in accommodating my dietary awkwardness. They were brilliant and I felt like a spoilt Princess.

Sadly the lovely sunny weather did not last and the next day we woke up to the usual wind and rain associated with sunny Scotland! Not to be put off we wandered in the rain to find a coffee shop before realising the rain was on for good, so we jumped in the van for a tour of the island. We had hoped to do this on the bikes, but it was not to be.

Day 3 and it was still raining. We needed to do something so a trail was found and off we went on a mountain bike ride. Not the best trail in the world, but it certainly blew away and drowned our cobwebs.

Rainy bike day followed by snooker.

Our hopes for doing some island hopping were dashed due to more bad weather so we headed north to Fort William, although the weather was not much better. the first night we stayed at the Holly Tree Hotel situated on the banks of Loch Linnhe. Again a very lovely hotel but sadly for me was let down by the less than helpful waitress when asked about gluten free choices.

View from ferry crossing back to mainland.

Ahh rainbow.

Room with a view.

Looking down the loch.

Looking up the loch.

We managed to squeeze in another mountain bike ride around the "Ten under the Ben route"without getting rained on, although the trail itself was mega muddy. It was a good route but not one of my favourites. I think it would be good for speedster types as opposed to my slowish pace.

That night we decided to camp and of course it stayed dry right up to the moment that we had set up and started cooking our dinner. Thankfully the master chef on hand was not phased and a mouth watering steak, mash and veg combo was produced. We were saved from further downpours by the very close proximity of the camp site and the pub.

The rain continued, so the dry tourist option was taken and a day out to Mallaig on the Jacobite steam train was booked. An all day activity but worth it for the views and experience.

Jacobite steam train.

It always rain in Fort Bill.

First class.


Steam and lonely church.

Steamed tree.

Glenfinnan viaduct

With continuing wet weather forecast we had to turn to plan E. As much as it pained my partner in crime the East bound plan was the only one left. Another mountain bike trail in Golspie was our destination with an over night stay at the coastal camp site in Dornoch.

The trail was set on the hillside of Ben Bragghie, but the only way to the top of the hill was via the black route. Now I have only been mountain biking for a few months so the thought of a black route at this stage was a mix of excitement and slight panic. The upper portion of the black was beyond my skill level so mostly pushed my bike to the top of the hill. The downhill was also quite technical and so some pushing was also involved on the way down, but I managed a fair chunk of it. The red route to the base was excellent and very enjoyable and so was the coffee bothy at the base that served me a BLT on gluten free bread. Mmmm Mmmm happy days.

Made it up and down alive!

Travelling home on the last day we stopped at Wolftrax to complete the upper and lower red routes.

The holiday was a great success on many levels and despite it being possibly the wettest week since May, much fun was had. I loved the fancy hotel but I also loved being back camping again. I also loved touring in my own country, I had forgotten how beautiful it is.

Sadly good things don't last forever and it's back to work tomorrow and time to save up for next year.

Haste ye back.

Peace x

All photographs by Caroline Harvey

Saturday, 7 September 2013

Vroom Vroom.....Phfttt Phfttt....Kaput.

Last weekend saw me enjoy my first ever motorbiking trip. To say that I was excited was an understatement. Apart from a trial run down to the Borders and back the previous weekend this was only my 3rd time being a pillion passenger on the back of a motorbike. The first was when I was travelling in the USA and my friends Dad took me out and about in Salt Lake City.

The thrill and excitement from that first experience had never left me, so when the opportunity arose to try it again, how could I possibly resist.

I was kind of gate crashing a boys weekend away so was hoping that I would not be too much of a hindrance to their wild, petrol head days!

As it turned out my rock 'n' roll motor bikers were less of the Butch and Sundance persuasion and a bit more of the Jack and Victor type. Which to be honest suited me down to the ground, it was fun times all the way.

 We were all ready and packed and ready for the off early on the Saturday morning. The weather was looking drier in the South of the country, so the route was planned and off to Port Patrick we headed.

 After a slightly drizzly ride down to Moffat via St Mays Loch the first tea and scone stop was much in need. Those boys know their tea and scones stops! I think they may even have mentioned a deliciousness rating scale, which I think was for the scones!

All was going well and we vroom vroomed our way down to our next tea stop in Newton Stewart before the final push on to Castle Bay campsite in Port Patrick.

After booking in and paying our fees for our 2 night stay, all there was to do was drive over to the tent site and set up our little homes. It should have been extremely easy, but sadly our bike decided that it had had enough for the day, in fact it had had enough for the weekend.

However this minor detail did not deter us from having a great few days, although it did make for a long day on the Monday waiting for tow trucks etc. Instead of more bike fun on the Sunday we passed our time by exploring, taking photos, playing mini golf, drinking, and eating. Happy days.

A funny little story from our holiday was being mistaken for a mystery shopper, because I asked that the chef be aware that my breakfast fry up was to be gluten free. Having been poisoned a few weeks ago, I have been overly inquisitive when ordering food and ask about cooking methods etc. Cross contamination is not a good thing when you are a Coeliac and not everyone is aware of that.

Anyway, the waitress in The Harbour House Hotel was extremely attentive and helpful and my breakfast was delicious. So much so that we went back the next day and ordered the same. The man who was the chef from the previous day, was in the bar  so he came over to speak to us. He explained that only the previous week he and his fellow chefs from across the area had been on a training course to explain all the ins and outs of cooking gluten free food. In his 12 years of cooking in the hotel I was the first person to ask for gluten free food, so hence he thought I was a mystery shopper.

Packed and ready.

Cliff top view.

Stream to the sea.

Dunskey castle.

Arty farty.


I won!

Set in stone.

Jack and Victor.

Campsite view.


Peace x

All photos by Caroline Harvey.