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Frank's travels around Britain 2011.

South West Scotland.


Our travelling day

It was September 2011 and the forecast was so bad that we were expecting Hurricane Katia to blow away the car. As we had previously conquered blizzards valiantly on our way to Cambridge, we set off in heavy rain, high winds and high spirits. We had only got a few miles down the road when we found the road was closed and we were diverted so far west that we were expecting to see Irish road signs!

Eventually we rejoined the main road following Jane Tomtom's directions, (due to the incompetence of Frank's smart phone, Gladys HTC has been unceremoniously dumped!)

We were on our way to our breakfast stop at Asda in Kendal. Note to other travellers ... Asda's Big Breakfast bears no resemblance to Morrison's Big Breakfast. Hungry Horace's should search out Morrison's wherever they are available.

The trip to our first intended stop of Dumfries was plain, simple and, to be frank, boring, with the exception of that beautiful pass around the Tebay area, which still looked lovely, despite the poor weather or “dreek” as they say in Scotland … not one Scottish person used that word during our stay!

The winds were persistent, but nothing compared to what we had in store the following day.

If we paid attention to TV weather forecasts, we'd never venture out. It's Frank's opinion that in Great Britain, the weather can change every ten minutes, so why worry. Get out there and enjoy it.

I had visited Dumfries regularly but that was 20 years ago. People from Dumfries are nicknamed "Doonhamers" because when folks in towns further North in Scotland (that's most places, as Dumfries is near the south coast of Scotland) they would refer to Dumfries as "Doon Hame" being the Scots for "Down Home". "The Doonhamers" is also the nickname of the Queen of the South football team, representing Dumfries & it's surrounding area in the Scottish Football league.

I had optimistically told Cynthia how nice I remembered the town was. But if you throw in a few new bypasses, no parking and terrible weather, the only thing that impressed both of us, was the size of the River Nith flowing through the town, looking like it would burst its banks any second. As you may have gathered, we didn't bother stopping.

By the time we got to Sanquhar we were in need of a break. We weren't that hopeful of finding anywhere, and at first glance, it was desperation that drove us inside the Burnside tearoom.

Never judge a book by it's cover! Inside we found a very friendly waitress, fresh tea and coffee, huge menu, lovely cakes, and clean toilets. What more do you need on your journey?

Twenty years ago, when I was their Northern Rep, Sanquhar was the headquarters of Brock Fireworks, but now, all that seems to remain of this business are the scattered small huts, where the fireworks were manufactured. It all looked very sad and deserted. There was just one sign, inside the complex. It read Brock Explosives Ltd. Its seems they are continuing with Military pyrotechnics & detonators.

Jane led us through a few more miles of wet countryside until we arrived at Ayr's Travelodge. At £15 a night per room, Ayr turned out to be one of the cleanest and smartest Travelodges we have stayed in. There is no attached Little Chef, but Cynthia's introduction to her first Frankie & Benny's outlet was very pleasing. There are times when you feel you need a second mortgage for some of the items on the menu, but check out the Sticky Salad. Both the Chicken and the Tiger Prawns are outstanding. Not everything was perfect. A steak on the second night was just not good enough, but an instant refund was available, and extremely pleasant staff softened the blow. On the other hand they were extremely understanding and accommodating about Cynthia's dietary problems. Overall not cheap, but highly commended.

On our first evening we thought we would look around Ayr, while it was light & the rain held off. I think we may have misjudged Ayr. It was down as a beautiful town & we were a bit disappointed! I'm sure there are really nice bits, we just didn't see them. As you approach the centre, there are lots of signs pointing you to the seafront. Unfortunately, when you get into the centre the signs stop.  Of course we took the wrong turning & ended up going round in circles. By a process of elimination, we got there in the end. The sea front is a long curved bay which is great for  fresh air & power walkers.  We arrived after high tide & the sea had dumped the sand and foam everywhere. As the wind got stronger, it managed to dump a fair bit of it on the car. Despite a car wash later the next day, it took a kind Polish gentleman to rub it off at Tesco's car wash in Chorley, 5 days later.

While we were braving the elements, we could see a man on the beach holding up, what appeared to be, a bird on a stick! It turned out that he stood in the freezing wind with an anemometer, while his 18 year old son sat in the comfort of a warm car, with the other end of the machine reading off the information! Even his wife stood outside the car trying to give some moral support. We were disappointed to hear from his wife that the wind speed was only 43 mph. I swear it lifted Cynthia off her feet twice! Only the seagulls seemed to be really enjoying it all.


The day of Katia

The forecast was bad but after breakfast it wasn't actually raining, so we set off for Culzean Castle, thinking if it got worse we could go inside and at least shelter!

Culzean castle was constructed as an L-plan castle by order of David Kennedy, 10th Earl of Cassilis. He instructed the architect Robert Adam to rebuild a previous, but more basic, stately house into a fine castle to be the seat of his earldom. The castle was built in stages between 1777 and 1792. It incorporates a large drum tower with a circular saloon inside (which overlooks the sea), a grand oval staircase and a suite of well-appointed apartments.

In 1945, the Kennedy family gave the castle and its grounds to the National Trust for Scotland (thus avoiding inheritance tax). In doing so, they stipulated that the apartment at the top of the castle be given to General Dwight Eisenhower in recognition of his role as Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe during the Second World War. The General first visited Culzean Castle in 1946 but amazingly only stayed there four times, including once while President of the United States.

The castle re-opened in April 2011 after a refurbishment funded by a gift from an American millionaire. William Lindsay, who had never visited Scotland, requested that a significant portion of his $4 million go towards Culzean. Lindsay was reportedly interested in Eisenhower's holidays at the castle

Without question, the grounds are lovely and well worth a visit. The outlook is more of a home than a castle. The rain held off long enough to enjoy strolling round & taking pictures. The Castle is literally on the cliff edge & even on a wet grey day, you could see its beauty. The military interests of its owners can be seen by the cannons & mortars around the place. There are many places to visit in its extensive grounds which encompass Scotland's first country park where you can explore the deer park, swan pond, miles of woodland walks and even an adventure playground. The disappointment comes as you go inside!

Very pretty but excesiveThe first words to greet you are "Welcome to Culzean. No photographs please". In the NT in England, most places now allow you to use your camera with its flash switched off. Try not to question this here, they talk of "it's for security" and immediately try to sell you a book at £4:50 a throw.

The first room is a display of swords & pistols ... well hundreds of them! All neatly arranged on circles & patterns. They look like a pretty display, certainly not weapons of war & death. From there on in, it gets more & more dour. The pictures are stern & pompous. To be honest most old houses are similar but somehow Culzean leaves a taste of misery & no sense of humour, although I'm sure this is just a personal impression. Occasionally, there are family pictures but they look as if they have been placed haphazardly or just a desperate throw at cheering the place up. (it didn't work!)

Only one room is attractive and it was the one Cynthia loved. It was Adam's design for a Saloon, or Round Drawing Room as it became known. It took in panoramic views of the Ayrshire coast and included a balcony poised high above the cliff tops (of course, this is not currently accessible to visitors). He believed that buildings should complement their surroundings and his romantic vision for Culzean had much to do with its location.

The Saloon was the main reception room of the castle, used for grand social and political occasions. Gilt furniture would have added to its splendour, its formal layout giving space for guests to circulate. By day, they could enjoy spectacular views. In the evening, they would meet their host here before setting off to admire the rest of the public rooms. Unfortunately it doesn't look as if it's got any its original furniture in there, it looked so bare.  It's just doesn't seem to be a place to relax and admire the view as was originally intended.

Then there are the kitchens, adorned with the house rules. Lots of do's & don'ts to keep the staff in their place. Let no one get uppity or think to rise above his station. It's enough to turn you communist! Many houses seem to get the balance right between upstairs & downstairs. Maybe this place is just too overpoweringly serious.

By the time we had completed the tour the rain was well and truly with us. It was supposed to be worse to the North, so we headed South, along the coast road towards Girvan & Stranraer. Boy did it rain! The views were as far as the mist would allow us to see. We felt sure it would be terrific in the sunshine but today it was just plain miserable. To cut a long drive very short, it was a very long, wet & viewless run to Newton Stewart. Here we had our drinks before running up the A713 through the Galloway Forest Park back to Ayr. Again, it would have been stunning on a good day, but today it was just a continuous wet run.


The God's shine on us.

What a different day to wake up to! It was like a Spring morning, fresh but not too cold, & lovely sunshine warming everywhere as the wind lessened to a reasonable level. What to do with such a gift? Well, get a good breakfast under our belts & go somewhere nice ... how about Loch Lomond? Perfect!

The price for getting to see the famous loch was you had to go through the west of Glasgow. It's not a pretty sight. I had seen the centre of this excellent city in the past but on this trip it was not a pleasant sight. Nevertheless, it was worth it.

We hope you read this before you go. A couple of tips ... The first turn off for the most southerly part of the loch, comes on you unexpectedly. Get off there, it's by far the best place. We didn't & returned there later in the day. Lovely views, excellent walks by the lake & a very nice hotel if you're after good food (at a cost of course). We even had the pleasure of seeing cormorants preening themselves in the sunshine.

Carrying on, as we did, the road provides very few views of the lake. There are lots of laybys along the road, all surrounded by trees with a view of every shade of green you can imagine. There is a distinct lack of lake views though! The first major turn off is into the village of Luss. Unless you need toilets or a snack, its not worth it. The loch side access is very limited, there aren't even walks along the loch side. So we carried on, after a brief snack and turned off at Tarbet where there is a second opportunity to walk beside the loch on a cycle track. Here you can see trees with their roots deep in water & they seem to survive it very well.  We turned off here, about two thirds of the loch's length, & followed the A814 down the side of Loch Long (aptly named!).

Now you may remember the limited views of a wonderful international Scottish Loch ... that's for tourists, they only spend money up there. Now spies are different! Just past Garelochhead is Her Majesty's Naval Base (HMNB). HMS Neptune is one of three operating bases in the United Kingdom for the Royal Navy.  It is the service's headquarters in Scotland and is best known as the home of the United Kingdom's strategic nuclear deterrent, in the form of nuclear submarines armed with Trident missiles.

 Now at a convenient spot above the base, as you cross the hills on the A817, is the most delightful spot to watch all the happenings of the base. Why, they even provide a seat & table for the spies to eat their sandwiches & make their notes. The only thing missing is a universal tripod to hold their camera steady! I resisted taking a photo & publishing it on here. After all, there are enough on Google images.

On the return we decided to use the coast road, thereby avoiding the Glasgow area completely. We have a friend who lives in the seaside town of Largs, a lovely resort with a pier and promenade, where we stopped for a coffee and stretched our legs in the sunshine.  The town markets itself on its historic links with the Vikings and an annual festival is held each year in early September.

In 1263 it was the site of the Battle of Largs between the Norwegian and the Scottish armies. The original name means "the slopes" (An Leargaidh) in Scottish Gaelic.  Unfortunately our friend was away on the day of our trip but we soon agreed that it was a delightful place to live. A long road running round the bay & islands to view off the coast. It is quite lovely to see. I can see why anyone would come here. It is central to many beautiful places & a joy to visit.

The run to Ayr, along the coast was glorious in the sunshine. It was such a change from the previous day, the best word to describe it was delightful.


The run home

The Gods decided that the first two awful days should be blessed with two great days. We decided that we should enjoy our favourite lake, Ullswater & wallow in the beauty of the English lake district.

We did one stop first, just outside Dumfries, at the 12 Apostles, the largest stone circle in Scotland. To be honest, it wasn't impressive. No signs lead you there & its location is just a field. Why was that spot chosen?  Today, about 4000 years after it was built, it looks so uninspiring.  What made them work so hard and so long to construct it? It may be lost in time now, but never forget, something drove early man to put in years of man hours to construct it. Now its just big boulders in a field, guarded by a lot of sheep.

Penrith is always worth a stop off. It's so close from the M6 to get inexpensive petrol at Morrison's. It has the the best Cumberland sausages ever & the best old fashioned grocers shop. J & J Graham is in the Market Square. Grahams tries hard to come from another age and appears very successful. It's worth it just to walk round & do as we did, get a special jar of Jam, just berries & grape juice. Delicious! We had a nice lunch at a small cafe by the side of the church & then went, via Pooley Bridge, to travel the length of Ullswater and over the Kirkstone Pass to Windermere.

Each time we go, we promise we will come back early in the day, give ourselves time to park the car at Glenridding & take the eleven o'clock boat up the lake to Pooley Bridge. We could then have lunch & be back to the car for three o'clock ... all we need is a sunny day & good timing... perfect!

Everything about Ullswater is so good. Try a scone with rum butter at Treetops Cafe & Gift Shop in Pooley Bridge. Visit Aira Force, the beautiful waterfall, on your right as you head towards Glenridding, & read below the legend connected to it. Just take photographs or rest awhile by the side of the lake in this stunning location or sail on it for a few hours.

Many regard Ullswater & it's nine miles, as the most beautiful of the English lakes; it has been compared to Lake Lucerne in Switzerland. It is a typical Lake District narrow " ribbon lake" formed after the last ice age when a glacier scooped out the valley floor and when the glacier retreated, the deepened section filled with melt water which became a lake. A total of three separate glaciers formed the lake. The surrounding mountains give Ullswater the shape of an stretched 'Z' with three distinct segments (or 'reaches') that wend their way through the surrounding hills.

The origin of the name 'Ullswater' is uncertain. Some say it comes from the name of a Nordic chief 'Ulf' who ruled over the area; there was also a Saxon Lord of Greystoke called 'Ulphus' whose land bordered the lake. The lake may have been named Ulf's Water in honour of either of these, or it may be named after the Norse god Ullr. Hodgson Hill, an earthwork on the northeast shoreline of Lake Ullswater may be the remains of a Viking fortified settlement.

 It's not just Ullswater for pictures. As you go past the Brotherswater Lake, near Patterdale, you climb up that glorious road through the Kirkstone Pass. About two thirds of the way up, there is a car park. Be sure to pull in & photograph that view. It never fails to impress.

Then its the run down, either turning right, to go through Ambleside or straight on, past Troubeck to Windermere. Both are equally breathtaking. We chose Windermere because there is a Crown Carvey overlooking the lake, with views to die for, assuming you can get a table by the window!  We did!  Its good food for very little money. It can get VERY busy & to be honest, it looks like it could now do with a refurbishment but it's still got the premier position, so do give it a try.

This trip was another wonderful example of ignoring the weather forecast! Forget what they say, just get out there & enjoy Great Britain. It works for us, just go for it!


The sunny day trip two weeks later.

As we promised ourselves, the £50 we won for a photo competition was put to good use, and at just after 11 o'clock on a bright sunny day we boarded the Raven at Glenridding.

Glenridding is home to the Ullswater 'Steamers', part of Ullswater Navigation and Transit Company Limited, which started operating steamer services in 1859 carrying mail, provisions and passengers around Ullswater. The "Raven", completed in 1889, was built in Rutherglen, near Glasgow by Thomas Seath and Company and transported in section by rail to Penrith, and then by horse dray to Pooley Bridge where she was assembled.

"Lady of the Lake" had already been launched in 1877 and over the last 116 years both vessels have been in service on Ullswater.

During the 1930s both vessels were converted to diesel and that's why in their title the word 'Steamers' has the inverted commas surrounding it! The programme of preservation and refurbishment continues today providing greater comfort in the saloon where passengers can enjoy central heating, beverages and drinks. The other ships in the fleet are "Lady Dorothy", brought over from Guernsey in March 2001. She was restored by local boat builder Frank Howard and allows for a winter service, and the "Totnes Castle", brought to Ullswater early in 2005. It sailed round the coast to Whitehaven and finishing her long journey on a flat back trailer. Following an intensive program of refurbishment, she was relaunched and renamed "Lady Wakefield" in November 2006. Half way up on the western shore, we saw what we thought was the Western Belle in dry dock. Probably pulled out for a winter refurbishment.

At 11, the wind was chilly & we needed the excellent coffee they had on board (booze too if you required it!). The sun was well out, burning off the mist around the mountain tops. Our cameras never stopped taking pictures. Everywhere you looked was another shot. No wonder they call it God's Own Country.

Plenty of kids were out on the lake in canoes & kayaks, yachts crossed our path & occasional idyllic houses graced the shore line, many with their boat house on the shores edge.

It was breezy, just enough to throw up a few white caps, but the Raven was as smooth as silk all the way. Cynthia prides herself on being a dreadful sailor but she smiled every inch of the way & loved the whole trip.

Part of the program was to stop at Howtown, (there is little evidence of a town) to enable the walkers to enjoy the walk to Pooley Bridge or back to Glenridding, or just enjoy the hills above the shore line. The boat felt packed but I think in high season they cram a few more on board.

We liked the Raven, as she seemed to have more outdoor space than the Lady Wakefield, our return vessel. I'm not sure that would be a benefit in the rain. Ullswater & the Lake District need their fair share of all that stuff that falls on the north west coast. Its not the Lake District for no reason, a lot of water is needed has to fill those valleys scooped out 450 million years ago! Ullswater is just short of 1000 feet deep.

The journey to Pooley Bridge, including the stop at Howtown takes just over an hour. This gives you just short of two hours to see Pooley Bridge & have some lunch. You can just stay aboard, if you wish & return in 30 minutes instead.

We used the Treetops Cafe (once owned by good friends, Malcolm & Dorothy Laverick) for lunch. It comes highly recommended. Good food, not cheap but well worth a visit. Of course, the village is full of gift shops, pubs, hotels & outlets for walkers. The sun was so hot by now that we got Cynthia a daft hat to wear & to save carrying all that stuff we accumulate in many bags, I got a back pack. I look like a fat bald hiker ... without the energy!

On the return journey, we managed to squeeze onto the stern seats of the Lady Wakefield. It was a very tight fit but still wonderful for photographs. Amongst the passengers, we met Wendy, her husband & their two lads, all "doing Europe" from Australia. What a nice family. We hope they went home with good memories of England especially.

At the end of the day we headed towards our favourite carvery on Windermere. This time we went via the road called the "struggle" down to Ambleside. We would stop & look round this place but I can never see a place to park! To compensate (& bring Frank's diet up to date), we parked just past Waterhead & renewed an acquaintance with an old friend, an ice cream dipped in hot chocolate! Cynthia could only look on, as the million calorie cone went down a treat .... and just before a carvery meal too. What a greedy boy!

A lovely way to end a lovely day.



Links for information on this page:
Frankie & Benny's page
Culzean Castle
Loch Lomond
Largs on line
The legend of Aira Force
Crown Carveries
Ullswater Steamers