Our journey is coming to an end. We’re on our way back to London. We left Duffus (north east of Inverness on the Moray Firth) yesterday midday and drove down to Gattonside in the Scottish Borders. It was a long and slow five hour drive with the usual detour around Edinburgh (not knowing where we were going). This morning we got up early in order to get to London at a reasonable time – hopefully before dark (4pm) and the rush hour traffic. Yesterday the peaks of the mountains were covered in snow. This morning a layer of frost covered everything. It was zero degrees – freezing; even the cows were huddled together. The sheep were just barely visible, blending into the frost covered ground. Mist hung low as did the sun which was blindingly bright making it difficult to drive.
We had figured six hours would get us to London but we’ve been on the road for an hour and a half and have only just crossed the border into England. We’ve done 100 miles and still have over 300 to go. The journey is made slow due to queues of cars behind trucks and slow farmers on single lane roads. That and the visibility difficulties due to the blinding sun. But it’s a pretty journey with the road going through the centre of villages with narrow streets and lovely old buildings. The car has finally warmed up and the water in the windscreen wipers thawed. Our iPod is plugged in and we’ve resolved to simply enjoy the trip – the only pressing need is to get the car back before the hire place closes. Negotiating London traffic will be another matter but hopefully the lovely google map lady will assist. By the time we return our car we would have covered over 2000 miles. Quite a journey.
Tomorrow will be another early start – Eurostar to Paris at 7.55am. We have to be at St Pancras Station half an hour earlier which means leaving our digs in London at 6.45am. Yikes. Once upon a time I left home at 7.00am every weekday to go to work. These days I have to set an alarm to be out of bed before 9.30 in order to make it down for breakfast. I’m looking forward to being in our apartment in Paris where we can fend for ourselves and there are no schedules for breakfast. And a sleep in. Then again, there is so much to do and see that sleeping in would be a waste of holiday time. I’ll save that for when we’re back home.
From Hong Kong to London felt like an endless journey. 13 hours air time arriving a few hours later from departure time. An interesting experience. Never ones to sleep on arrival we stayed up chatting, eating, drinking. We were staying with M’s brother and sister-in-law right in the heart of London – across the road from the Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey and around the corner from the Eye. Walking distance to everywhere. And walk we did. There is so much to see in London, so many monuments and places of interest, museums and galleries. We had a list of places we wanted to visit but we also just took pot luck wandering about and found ourselves in some amazing places – like the Courts of Justice and Southwark Cathedral- simply because we liked the look of a street or a building and wanted to just explore.
Amongst the places that I wanted to visit/see were those that were familiar through songs, films and nursery rhymes: Picaddilly Circus, Leicester Square, Covent Garden, Harrods, and of course all the Monopoly sites. We walked from place to place, from morning till late afternoon, stopping at a pub for a fine English Ale and one of their fabulous pies. One day we walked the equivalent of 20k (which included the many steps we took around the National Gallery where so many of the art works just took my breath away).
From London we hired a car and drove to Cambridge. A straightforward journey should you have NavSat or similar. We thought our iphones would do the job with Google maps but for some reason neither of our phones were able to accesss data. Fortunately we had a paper map but this was of little use for those who aren’t familiar with the streets and traffic of a foreign city. But many fraught turns and deciphering of the signs got us out of London and on our way. It was a relatively short drive to Cambridge but again, not knowing the city and not having proper navigation meant that we spent some time driving around one way streets that ended up nowhere till we found our accommodation, a gorgeous B&B right in the centre, and conveniently located near a very friendly pub.
Cambridge is full of people on bicycles – just like in the films. They’re something of a nuisance on the raod, but given that we were the foreigners, we couldn’t complain. The buildings were stupendous. Seriously old. Seriously beautiful. And gorgeous little narrow cobble stone roads. I felt that at any moment I would turn a corner and meet Harry et al. It was charming and delightful. So many of these ancient buildings had retained their original character, though many were now big brand name shops. Such a contradiction.
From Cambridge to Ely to see the great Cathedral and climb its winding narrow stone staircase to the top of the Octagon to see the physical structure behind the beautiful decorated internal facade. Mind boggles at how so many hundreds of years ago men managed to construct this magnificent edifice; not just in terms of the carved stonework but the structure itself: there are huge beams made of single oak trees that must have weighed tons. Ely was well worth the detour.
Next stop York, home of York Minster Cathedral. Once again we got lost trying to find our way in to the town – so many one way streets and road signs that meant nothing to us until we had driven by and realised we should have turned left/right etc. Fortunately we stopped and asked a passer-by where we were and she gave us very clear directions. We were not far at all, but without her we could have been driving around all night.
Our hotel was directly opposite York Minster which is something of a jewel box or tardis. It doesn’t appear to be very big but inside it is huge, and impressive. York is another place like Cambridge – but perhaps older – where most of the buildings are original – Tudor mostly – but now house restaurants and all manner of shops. It was fantastic to walk around in the evening, marvelling at these ancient buildings and the little alley ways and all the old pubs. Again, like being in a fairy tale or film set, though the biting cold reminded us that this was, indeed, reality.
From York we headed off to Scotland. It was meant to be a short(ish) journey – some 2+ hours but we found ouselves on the motorway going in the wrong direction more than once and then ground to a stop on a section where there were roadworks. Motorways generally make for a quick but not particularly scenic journey so being stuck on one going at a mere 2mph wasn’t very rewarding. It took us over an hour to cover perhaps 10 miles. The delay did give us the opportunity for a fine photo of the Angel of the North, a huge and dramatic iron sculpture beside the motorway. It transpired that a truck had broken down and once we were clear of that it was all systems go. And go we did. Through Northumberland where we got off the motor way and traveled along small roads through beautiful countryside. It was like all of a sudden the landscape just opened up. It was so pretty, so picturesque and so so different from Australia. We passed through James Herriot country (All Creatures Great and Small) in Thirsk (North Yorkshire) to Northumberland and then crossed into the Sottish Borders. Travelling through this country has been delightful and I’m only sorry that we couldn’t have taken longer to stop and marvel at this incredible country.