So I arrived in the U.K. -
It sounds a little like a stereotype but somehow I was not surprised to see it raining when I arrived in Newcastle, on July 25. Grey skies, hard rain, late in the evening, traffic on the left side of the road, tires with minimal thread left…..I was not really feeling happy.....
I had not pre-arranged accommodation. It was getting late, and since Newcastle did not strike me as being an outright tourist attraction, it turned out to be somewhat difficult to find an affordable place to stay for the night. Using the old “damn the torpedoes – full speed ahead” approach, I decided to try my luck heading for Edinburgh, some 120 miles/180k away. Hopefully, I would find some Bed & Breakfast or campground along the way. Not that I really wanted to set-up tent that evening but I was willing to take anything.
By chance or intuition, as I was about to leave the Newcastle, I drove past a hotel which belongs to chain of French economy hotels (Formule 1). I had used these before, travelling in France. While offering very basic accommodation, these places are usually clean, efficient and affordable. Pretty much like the “Mc Donalds of hotels”. You know what to expect. Same here.
After having spent the night in relative comfort, I took the road towards Edinburgh. My route took me across the English/Scottish border. It was interesting to note, the importance that was apparently given to the national identity (no passport control though …. ;-) ). So, after about 2 hours and roughly 100 km of leaving Newcastle, I came to the “first town in Scotland” named Jedburgh (dating back to the 12th century). It struck me as a very touristy place (the largest space being the parking lot). But, I needed something to eat and to find a gas station, so Jedburgh served a purpose.
Afterwards I went on toward Edinburgh, the Scottish capital. It took me another couple of hours on some very pretty country roads to get there. Along the way, it dawned on me that going forward, I would be facing a problem which thus far had been less of an issue: accommodation, or rather, affordable accommodation within the constraints of my budget.
Scotland, with all of its tourist attraction, tends to be rather pricey. Okay, it was probably less expensive than Norway, but there was a key difference: in Norway, especially in the north, one could always find a camping site (at reasonable prices). My first impression in Scotland was, that such places were rare (or maybe I simply had not yet developed and eye for them). The alternative being a Bed & Breakfast place. But you had to count yourself lucky if you found anything for under 30 Pound (roughly $45).
While I got somewhat apprehensive, I had no need to worry. Approaching Edinburgh, I started to follow my intuition (and a lonely sign saying “Campground”) and found the Mortonhall site, just 5 km south of Edinburgh. This campground was nice: it was well-kept, had a small general store and a pub – and the weather had improved too.
"The Scottish National Gallery"
I spent the next few days in Edinburgh: the city center around Princes Street and the Royal Mile. I managed not to visit Edinburgh Castle. The tourist season had started and if anything I wanted to avoid the regular holiday crowd. There where two places I became to like a lot: for one there were the National Galleries of Scotland (both historic and modern paintings – very interesting) and the Ocean Terminal Shopping Centre. The latter is just another modern shopping mall and as such is probably something that can be found in any major city. What made a visit interesting was the fact that this place became the home of the royal yacht “Britannia”.
I am not an outright royalist, but everything to do with the British Royal Family has always held a strange kind of attraction for me. Maybe, coming from Germany with its matter of fact constitutional set-up, I am somehow overcompensating something. Be that as is may, I spent a wonderful morning and afternoon on the “Britannia”.
(Click here for a view of the sundeck)
The next place on my schedule was Stirling – as small town some 60 kilometers northeast of Edinburgh. I had come across this place doing some research on the internet. Stirling is an interesting place with the attractive Stirling Castle, the Wallace Monument (the original “Braveheart”, made popular in more recent time by Mel Gibson in the film with the same title).
(Click here for some historical information about Stirling Castle)
(Click here for some historical information about the Wallace Monument)
I also found the campus of the University of Stirling to be very attractive. In addition to being located in what could be called a country club, it also has a very nice cafeteria (and very good cappuccino by the way).
At this point, I had be on the road for some 13,000 km, I needed new tires for the BMW. After asking a few people and some running around Stirling, I finally met "James" of
Springkerse Ind Est
+44 (0) 1786 450249
James runs a small garage and was very helpful. A brief telephone call to the tyre wholesaler and new Metzler Tourances were ordered and delivered an fitted within 24 hours. Interestingly enough, James outed himself as another BMW R 1150 GS owner and we had a good time talking about the pros and cons of this motorcycle. Thanks to James’ efforts I was able to continue my tour the next day on new tires.
"James" and his wife
The next stop was to be Loch Ness. The one thing I felt I had to do was to at least try and get a glimps of “Nessie”. Needless to say that I was unsuccessful. From Stirling I went to Inververness, some 200k to the north. The trip across the highlands was pleasant except for the weather, which -once again- had turned cold, wet and windy. I did not spend too much time near Inverness. My first impression was that of a fairly busy industrial town. I decided to go the countryside in an effort to find a place to stay for the night.
I did so in the village of Drumnadrochit. Not only struck me the name of the place as very Scottish, I also ended up in the traditional “Riverbank” Bed & Breakfast run by a very nice couple, Ruth and Gordon, who made their guests feel very much at home ("haggis for breakfast" - as an option).
“From the internationalized menu of the local pizza place – I was struck by No. 4….”
By now it was the end of July and I was eager to go south again. I left Drumnadrochit on August 1, heading towards Glasgow. There was one last look at Loch Ness (again, no Nessie to be seen) from the parking lot at Castle Urquhart.
"Loch Ness and Urquhart Castle ruin"
My intention at this point was to get to some place on the Irish Sea, in order to catch a ferry to the Isle of Man. I followed a route which led along a number of “lochs”: Loch Ness, Loch Lochy, Loch Linnhe, Loch Leven, Loch Tulla, Loch Lomond and ended up on the eastern banks of the Firth of Clyde, on a campside near the village of Meigle (some 40 k west of Glasgow). The campside turned out to be of the "rustic" sort: meadow-type green (fortunately the cows had been removed before) and very basic sanitary installations. This location was not my first choice, had I had any. It was getting late, it looked like raining and the general area did not seem to offer a lot of alternatives.
"A very basic campground near Meigle Village"
I left early the next morning, heading south. I decided to follow the coast line, hoping to find a somewhat nicer, more accommodating place to stay. With some luck, helped by comments from a passer-by on the parking lot in Kilmarnock who engaged me in a conversation, I found the small port of Stranraer on Loch Ryan.
Passing through the outskirts of the town, I saw a sign for the Aird Donald Caravan Park. I had found what was easily the best-kept campground on my whole trip. The town with it supermarkets and restaurant was nearby, the weather had improved, so I decided to stay for two or three day.
"The most civilized campground yet"
(Click here for another impression of Aird Donald campground)
The area around Stranraer and Loch offered may attractive sights. On a trip trip around the North Rhins peninsular to the west of the town and the loch, I found another favorite sight: the Corsewall Lighthouse. It has been converted into a small hotel overlooking the Irish See.
" Corsewall Lighthouse"
On my excursion through the town I saw a number of traditional shops. One of these ( or rather the name of it), caught my attention – probably because is reminded me of my last employer:
“ser-en-dip-i-ty n. an apparent natural gift for making fortunate discoveries by chance”
After an enjoyable 3-day stay in Stranraer it was time to move on. I was heading for the port of Heysham some 200 k southeast. From there a ferry would leave for the Isle of Man. I had not made reservation for the crossing and was hoping that it would not be a problem. I was not disappointed. I did get a ticket but had to wait for almost 2 hours in the bright sun in full gear was not pleasant. – Ah … the joys of motorcycling!
Posted by Heiko Neumann at May 09, 2004 09:37 PM GMT