Sunday, March 29, 2015

A things bright and beautiful

South of Edinburgh in the Scottish Borders country, you could easily be fooled into thinking we were back at home. The rolling hills and farmland are very reminiscent of the drive to from Mortlake to Casterton, even the place names sound familiar; Newtown and Coldstream and signs to Darlington! Through this area they even have cyprus windbreaks tinged with the same rust disease that’s killing ours at home.

We stopped briefly to take an obligatory border crossing photo. There’s no fanfare at the English border, not even a flag. There is one on the Scottish side though so we drove round and went back through again. Now we can say we’ve been to Scotland twice!

We drove off course a bit to look at the remains of Hadrian’s Wall. How amazing to eye ball a structure that was built by the Romans! And then, because we were so close we stopped in Hexham. What a picturesque town this is in England, a far cry from the deserted namesake hamlet  of ours. There was a market on so we bought some bread and visited the abbey. Its just beautiful and we could only wonder at what the Duke would have thought about the Australian Hexham if he could see it 200 years down the track.

Beyond Hexham the stone walls give way to hedgerows as you enter Yorkshire and County Durham. With the Yorkshire Dales on one side and the Yorkshire Moors on the other, we arrived in  our home for the next 5 nights, Thirsk

Thirsk is a quaint old market town with a big market square in the middle. This is boundaried by lovely old shops but the road that runs through the square is very busy so you have to be careful not to gawp too much at at the olde worlde surroundings in case you get hit by a modern day car!

We’re staying in a mews by the river in Duck Cottage. It’s as cute as pie and so named because of the ducks that frequent the banks of the river behind us. The cottage is only metres from the centre of town so it feels like we’ll have a very authentic ‘village’ experience.

On Saturday morning we walked straight out our mew’s gate onto the footpath and into the market square. We bought some delectable goodies from the bakery (the food has got much tastier since we crossed the border!) and some meat from the butcher, where every cut of meat is labeled with the name of the farm it came from.

You don’t have to drive far in Yorkshire to come across another quaint little village. In the course of a 20 km drive out and about from Thirsk we came across at least a dozen of them. One was Pickhill and the local school were having their fete so we dropped in to have a sticky beak. Its a little two room primary and the principal told us she has 34 kids in her 3-6 class. It’s always good to get some perspective about your own working conditions. We did our collegiate bit to support the school by donating a pound to all the raffles and Geoff and Taine both took a turn at holding one of the giant owls they had on display.

We also dropped in at Masham, another market town. There wasn’t much of a market (in fact it reminded us very much of our own market square stalls) but Taine bought some hematite from the gem shop and the man who was running it was quite knowledgeable about the stones and even had his own olivine bomb.

Thirsk is home to James Herriot, author of the ‘All Creatures Great and Small’ series of stories and subject of the long running TV series of the same name. Geoff and I are both fans of the stories so it was fun to discover that there is a James Herriot World in Thirsk, a cross between a museum and tourist attraction, in the actual house from which James Herriot (really Alf Wight) lived and practised. It’s a real ‘hands on’ attraction with each room lovingly restored to its 1940 -50s style. It was like being transported back into my Nanna’s house. They also have sets from the TV series and a startling array of horrendous looking veterinary surgical implements.

Our UK vodaphone sims don’t work in Thirsk and there is no internet access at the cottage. This is proving a challenge for 3 ‘always on’ travelers. The first night I read an entire book. Last night , much to the amusement of the local church neighbourhood watch, we walked down to the information centre to hook into their wifi to check our emails and plot the next few days on Google Maps.

My family on my dad’s side, the Hinchcliffs, originated from Yorkshire. William Hinchcliff’s death notice states that he was previously of Horsfall House in Holmfirth so we took a drive down the A1 today to check it out. I had done some homework before we left home and printed off the address for Horsfall House. Unfortunately, somewhere in our travels, I managed to lose the folder of ‘interesting things to do’ and of course we have no internet access so disappointingly we couldn’t find the house itself but we did find the town and had a wander around. Holmfirth is built into a hill with some very steep streets , including a ‘top’ and ‘bottom’ main street. Taine thought the sign to the ‘bottom shops’ was hysterical. It rained all morning making the place look a bit dour but most of the architecture looks to date back into at least the 1800s so a lot of it would have been around when William and Elizabeth and their children left for Australia. The sense of walking where they must have once walked was pretty special. We found some standing tombstones near the bridge, 2 of which referred to different Hinchcliffs and the name was quite prevalent, in lots of spelling variations, throughout the town. This in itself was quite exciting for me because Hinchcliffs are now few and far between where I come from.

From the Holme Valley we drove south again to York. We’d been warned about trying to park in York and advised to take the park and drive bus service. Unfortunately we blinked at the turn out for the bus and found ourselves smack in the middle of the castle area. Luckily it was Sunday so parking wasn’t too hard to find and we saved ourselves from having to wait for the bus. York is history overload and I found myself wishing one of our history teacher friends was with us to upskill us while we walked. The best we could do was recite ‘the Grand Old Duke of York and mutter vague mentions about Richard the 111. Hopefully the visit will have piqued Taine’s interest enough for him to research the real history of York for himself. We climbed the steps of Clifford’s Tower and paid the, (as steep as the steps), 22 pound to get in. This gave us a brilliant view over York with its stone enclosing wall and the beautiful Minster.

 A wander through town unearthed more quaint, fairy tale, cobbled streets, similar to the ones we saw in Switzerland, with higgledy piggeldy roof lines and bowed walls.

We made it as far as the York Minster in the icy wind but the entry fee of 15 pound ($30) per adult was too steep for us, especially since we’ve recently walked through Notre Dame for free.

Time to get home to the warmth of our little cottage and a home cooked Sunday roast.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Heading South

We were a bit sad to leave our little cottage at Balmacara this morning. It's been nice to have a 'home' base with a washing machine and good wifi and Ardview Cottage has been a perfect fit for us.

As on the day we arrived, the sun shine was brilliant, even though the temperature wasn't far above freezing. Knowing the road a bit better meant we could enjoy the scenery more on our way back toward Spean Bridge. It really is spectacular.

The Highlanders are working hard to save the Gaelic language. Every sign is written with bot Gaelic and English and we've tried (in vain) to get our tongues around some of the words.

Just before we turned off towards Glasgow, were passing a pub on the side of the road when a couple of deer started to wander across the road in front of us. Thankfully we missed hitting them and then when we got out of the car the 2 were joined by several more who are obviously used to the passing traffic because they were quite eager to see if we had anything to feed them.

Fort William is another 'Outlander' reference point for me so we stopped there for a quick look. The fort is long gone but there are lots of lovely old buildings to look at in the main street. Taine bought himself a tam o' shanter that will provide a colourful addition to the dress up box when we get home and we went for a quick peek in the free entry museum. There were a lot of Bonnie Prince Charlie artefacts and after our visit to Culloden a lot of the Jacobite history made sense to us. 

We traveled on down beside the bonny bonny banks of Loch Lomond and when hunger got the better of us we stopped at a little place called Tyndrum where they claimed to have the best fish and chips in the UK. Since we've had none anywhere else I can't substantiate that claim but the haddock was seriously very good and much better than any battered fish I've had in Australia.

From there we negotiated our way through the late afternoon traffic into Glasgow. There are clearly a couple of local rules we weren't aware of because we nearly got cleaned up a couple of times and the looks from some of our fellow motorists were withering. Thankfully we were on the right side of the city for our Premier Inn ( definitely the UK La Quinta alternative). It's probably not fair to judge a city on a less than 24 hr visit but a couple of things stood out in Glasgow. 
1. All the Glasweigans we spoke to (about 5) were very friendly and helpful. 
2. Glasgow is filthy. There is rubbish everywhere, on the sides of the roads, in the gutters, hanging from the brambles. It's pretty disgusting and we weren't sorry we couldn't stay longer.

Edinburgh is just a short hop down the highway and we booked another Premier Inn there so we could park the car and walk to Edinburgh Castle. This is the mother (or should that be father?) of all castles! The entrance fee is in proportion to its size but it was definitely worth the visit. It was freezing cold on the battlements but there was still a sizeable crowd. I think it must be madness in the high season. 

The architecture of the castle is splendid with the walls an extension of the cliff face its built into. From the ramparts you can look out across the city. It's quite beautiful. There's a good few hours of viewing involved in a visit to Edinburgh Castle so it filled in most of the day. Afterwards we walked the 'golden mile' and did a bit of snooping in the souvenir shops but the exchange rate is severely curtailing our souvenir spending. This is probably a good thing. Those magnets always seem such a good idea until you get home and I'm pretty sure tartan isn't a fashion statement in Mortlake!

Tonight we ate at the hotel on their meal deal - twenty pounds for two courses and a drink for dinner + all you can eat for breakfast. This was a good decision. The food was fresh and delicious and an all you can eat breakfast means Taine will survive a few hours in the car tomorrow.