Photographs by Mike Vickers
Feature photo above: We encountered some really busy roads in Scotland, but his one through Glen Coe was without doubt the busiest…
An autumn trip to Scotland, how lovely. That was the plan, to see the colours in the Trossachs, with additional stops in Scarborough on the way up and dropping in on Northumberland and the Yorkshire Dales on the way back. So, off we set just as a vicious little storm named Babet launched herself across the Atlantic towards Good Old Blighty. More on that later.
So, Jan and I drove north from sunny Gloucester in Roger the Renault, freshly MoT’d, cleaned and fuelled. Well, why not – it was his holiday as well. We made good time and breezed into Scarborough late afternoon, stopping with friends Andy and Helen for a couple of days. The weather was bright and sunny, if a little brisk, perfect for walking Bertie, their dog, along South Bay cliff top and gardens. Those North Sea breakers were creaming in, a wonderful sight on such a lovely morning.
Onwards and upwards, we left Scarborough and stopped at Saltburn for coffee, taking in the huge beach and dramatic cliffs veiled in misty spray coming off the waves and swirling inland, before continuing north in earnest. At Gateshead, we passed by The Angel Of The North. We call it Bill’s Angel after our friend Bill who, while working for Gateshead Council, commissioned Anthony Gormley to create this landmark statue.
Once past Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, we struck off for Jedburgh just over the Scottish border where we stopped for a light lunch, then motored on through lovely scenery to Edinburgh, Stirling and Callander before finally arriving at our destination, the little village of Strathyre, nestling in a wooded valley deep in the Trossachs.
Rosebank House B&B was one of those substantial Victorian thick-walled welcoming houses that gathers you in with a warm protective hug. We were greeted by Sharon and Davide and shown up to our room. I admired the extensive deployment of lovely tartan carpets. Very patriotic. Our third floor family room came with an en-suite and a spare single bed, ideal for resting our tired suitcases. However, to our surprise and delight, there were four of us actually staying in the room; Jan and I, a traditional wooden rocking horse called Mr William, plus an industrious mouse out painting the front door to her skirting board home.
We settled in and that evening, enjoyed a super Mediterranean supper cooked by Davide, who’s Italian. With there not being anywhere closer to eat out than Callander, this was a most welcome end to a long day, and after dinner we retired early to a very large and comfy bed in a very dark and very, very quiet bedroom. Now that’s what I call a perfect combination at the end of a tiring day.
Breakfast the following morning with the other guests was a sociably chatty affair before we all dispersed to pursue our plans for the day. It was notably misty outside with a real nip in the air. On the drive to Callander we stopped beside Loch Lubnaig, enjoying some moody views of the mist rising off the water.
Callander itself proved to be a lovely little town with more than a few surprises. For a start, the ticket machine in the car park only took cash – it wasn’t having anything to do with a card or app, a real rarity nowadays. We once spent a frustrating half hour in a car park in Cirencester unsuccessfully attempting to use an app-only machine and it irritated the hell out of us, so one up to Callander – we liked the place even before we’d left the car park. By this time the sun had burnt off the mist to reveal a really rather nice day indeed, with lots of pale sunshine. We browsed town, indulged in coffee and cake and even started our Christmas gift shopping. All the locals, everyone we met, were absolutely delightful.
From Callander, we drove to Trossachs Pier and boarded the Lady Of The Lake, a little pleasure boat, for a gentle cruise around Loch Katrine. The stunning sunlit views amply made up for the biting cold. Perhaps we should have sat down in the cabin rather than on the roof. Jan huddled under a blanket while I snapped away at some exceptional autumn scenery. I even spotted a golden eagle circling over a nearby peak.
Back on dry land again and with the heater in Roger at full blast, we drove through to Aberfoyle and out along a very long and winding single track road to the Inversaid Hotel, passing Lochs Ard, Chon and Arklet and meandering through ancient forests. The hotel is one of the very few buildings actually located on the eastern shore of Loch Lomond. We were made most welcome and enjoyed a delicious hot chocolate in the hotel before returning along the same remote road. The scenery was spectacular.
We enjoyed another Italian supper back at Rosebank that evening, chatting with the other guests; a delightful duo of walking ladies and an American couple from Wisconsin. He’s a carpenter, she’s over to hug some ancient and historic trees. As you do.
The following morning – after another very dark and graveyard quiet night – the weather was much warmer but ominously, having barrelled across the Atlantic, Storm Babet was now moving north towards us, with major weather warnings issued for the next few days. However, the walking ladies were made of stern stuff and were away to Killin for the day, while the Wisconsin couple departed for home after breakfast. Thus is how it is in a B&B – delightfully fleeting contacts with lovely people you will certainly never meet again.
We headed out ourselves, wandering off in the general direction of Oban via some beautifully scenic and wonderfully empty roads. The weather actually perked up after a grey start and a weak sun made a welcome appearance, bronzing the bracken-covered mountainsides. We stopped at Poppies, a shoreside nursery and garden centre at Dunbeg, for a coffee while admiring the lovely sea views, then dropped down into Oban.
Our last visit was in 2018, just prior to our retirement and return to Turkey, but not a lot has changed. The ferries were still coming and going to Mull and people went about their business as people do, of course. One of the very few significant towns on the western highland coast, Oban possesses a goodly number of shops, including the only Screwfix branch in Western Scotland and a Superdrug where, to her great delight, Jan found her favourite lipstick shade and immediately bought two sticks. Sadly, when she finally runs out again, we’ll just have to drive from Gloucester to Oban to buy some replacements, a trifling round trip of 862 miles!
Back in the car again, we set off north from Oban to Connel and over the chunky girder bridge. Looking down as we crossed, the Falls of Lora below were a swirling maelstrom of whirlpools and surging waves as water boiled out of Loch Etive at low tide, flowing fast at anything up to 10 million cubic feet per minute at full pelt. Believe me, it’s impressive.
On to Glen Coe, one of Scotland’s many natural wonders, and we took the road up the glen. I studied geography at school way back in the last century and we touched on the ice ages, and here the landscape is textbook ice age, the profile of the glen ground out by glaciers many thousands of feet thick, scouring the rocks into a perfect U-shaped valley as illustrated in my textbooks. Frankly, I would have taken more interest back then had I been able to seen the real thing. We stopped a few times so I could take photos but it was so windy I could barely keep the camera still. Babet was announcing her imminent arrival.
At the top of Glen Coe, the road traverses a bleak and empty Rannoch Moor, golden in the sunshine, backed by mountains and dotted with lochs, pools and bogs. I would not like to break down on that road, and as we completed our circular route, we occasionally glimpsed disused railway lines in various glens, their courses still identifiable by sturdy stone bridges, lines of trees, cuttings and graceful viaducts.
Now hungry, we stopped just north of Strathyre at Mohr84 cafe for late afternoon meal. Jan devoured a big bowl of mussels and I did a similar job on a plateful of fish and chips, the perfect end to a long day. Mileage on Roger the Renault was now up to 735 and we would be starting to wend our way back south again tomorrow.
We woke the following morning to low and heavy clouds. The mountains had all but disappeared, the wind cold and blustery. We debated whether to travel or not considering the Met Office had issued a red alert, but decided to go anyway, reasoning that as Babet was moving north on the further eastern side of Scotland while we were travelling south, we’d miss most of the bad weather, but it was still a pretty dank and miserable journey.
After saying goodbye to Sharon and Davide, we drove through constant rain down to Edinburgh, around its ring road and headed on south down the A1, stopping at the famous Cedar Cafe for coffee and a cake. We could see the coastline from the road on a number of occasions and the leaden seas were running in fast and high, with enormous waves creaming in to thump and crash onto the beaches. I can safely say there was absolutely nobody out walking the dog.
Stopping at Beadnall, we had lunch at the Craster Arms, but didn’t stay for a stroll along the shore as the rain was constant. The thundering sea was churned into long combing rollers with spray whipping down the wind to lash at the windscreen. It was primeval, beautiful and miserable all at the same time. Proper 50 Shades of Grey weather.
We finally reached Alnwick, our destination, in the early afternoon and pulled into Alnwick Lodge just south of the town. Admirably renovated by Peter and Evelyn, this solid, welcoming and very traditional Northumberland farmhouse and its outbuildings were clustered around a central courtyard filled with massed planting. Their remarkable vision has produced something really rather wonderful. And quirky. Peter mounted an oversized wooden chair atop the roof years ago and it has become a welcome and familiar sight for those passing by on the busy A1.
Our upper floor bedroom was at the top of a stone spiral stair. Well, that was a first! The place just begged to be explored so we ended up in the comfortable lounge dominated by a huge fireplace and sizzling hot wood burner. This winning combination proved too much of a temptation and we stayed in the warm for the rest of the day.
Babet was going nowhere. We woke to a blowy, stormy, drizzly, monochrome and thoroughly leaden day. After a cooked breakfast served in the old stables – again, a first for us – we ventured out into a wild and woolly storm-wracked Northumberland and headed to Cragside, the one place I wanted to visit. However, unsurprisingly, it was shut due the crappy weather, so we returned to Alnwick. By this time, Jan was not feeling at all well and was sinking fast with a chesty cough, so we bought some medicine in town and went on to Alnwick Castle but that, too, was also shut due to Babet. Great, but at least Barter Books, the impressively large second-hand bookshop was open, so we dropped in for two purposes – to have a browse but more importantly to get out of the dismal weather.
This unique bookshop was housed in the old Alnwick railway station, a wonderful Victorian stone building packed to its ornate cast iron roof trusses with tens of thousands of interesting second-hand books, and maintaining the general railway theme, the waiting room has been converted into a cafe and miniature trains rattle around on tracks stretched across the tops of the bookcases. We loved it, but the shop was packed as most of Alnwick seemed to have had the same idea as us on where to go to get out of the filthy weather!
Returning to Alnwick Lodge at lunchtime, Jan gave in to her coming illness and we kept a low profile in our room for the remainder of the day apart from nipping into Alnwick late afternoon for a bite to eat.
We woke the following morning to find the night had been wet, wild and windy again, so not much of a surprise there, then. Babet had magically converted lots of leaves and twigs into debris, some of which now adorned Roger the Renault. After breakfast, we browsed with interest the antiques section of Alnwick Lodge displayed in the ground floor of the original farm house and after saying goodbye to Peter and Evelyn, headed south again on the A1. The weather was pretty miserable to start with but as we clocked up the miles, perked up considerably. Skirting Newcastle and Middlesborough, we branched off at Scotch Corner, probably the most recognized junction on this famous road, and headed on into the Yorkshire Dales.
By this time, the rain had stopped, blue patches were beginning to appear between the clouds and the roads were drying out – apart from the occasional impressively large residual puddle, usually lurking just around a bend in the road. We stopped in Leyburn for a cuppa and cranberry teas cakes, visited a chemist to get some more cough medicine for Jan and browsed a small but very interesting craft market in the town square.
From Leyburn, we drove on towards Wensleydale. The views were fabulously bucolic; wide fertile valleys between rolling hills dotted with fluffy sheep grazing in stone-walled green fields and open moorland above. We stopped at Castle Bolton and discovered wild boar were being kept in the woodland to the rear of the castle. Further on, Aysgarth Falls thundered dramatically after the storm, the churning floodwater dirty brown, and finally stopped in Hawes for lunch at the Wensleydale Creamery. Despite the recent torrential rain and weather warnings, this pretty village with its narrow cobbled streets was still busy with damp, anorak-clad visitors, so I shudder to think how packed it gets on a sunny summer’s day.
After lunch, we continued on through lovely countryside to Richmond and Masham, our destination. The King’s Head Hotel was easy enough to find – all roads lead to a large open square in the centre of town and with huge lettering splashed across the frontage, we spotted our destination easily enough. As we trundled our cases into the hotel, a few market traders were dismantling their stalls at the end of the day and for once, courtesy of the spacious square, parking was easy enough. By now, Roger was living the dream and had covered 1035 miles.
Our ground floor accommodation, The Tack Room, was at the back of the hotel in – yes, you’ve guessed it – a converted old stable. The room was large, spacious and comfortable, and as an added bonus, the en-suite contained a bath. Which Jan promptly filled. To the brim. This exercise in prolonged steamy relaxation was for medicinal purposes, of course, as she’d struggled all day with what was turning out to be a really rather unpleasant chesty cough and cold. Experience has told us in the past that it’s now really only a question of time before I succumb was well…
We woke up very early the following morning coughing in harmony. Great. An expectorant ensemble. Charming. A symphony of sno – no, let’s not go there. Well, I did mention it was only a question of time.
Despite not feeling exactly on top of the world, after breakfast we took to the car again because at last the skies were more blue than grey, but clear skies meant a cold night and there was ice on the windscreen, the first of this year’s coming winter.
We decided on a picturesque circular route from Masham to Pateley Bridge via Ripon, then on up into the Dales, stopping at Grassington for coffee and cakes. It’s a busy little place with lots of visitors supporting a much larger number of shops, restaurants and pubs than you’d normally expect for such a modestly sized village, but everyone was as warm and welcoming as a hot water bottle on a cold night. Yes, I liked Grassington. We even managed to get around the village without mentioning All Creatures Great And Small.
From there, we drove up over the tops back to Aysgarth through some stunning countryside, all golden moors, moody valleys, craggy grey scars and green fields chopped up into neat rectangles by endless grey and white-splotched dry stone walls, many containing impressively abundant flocks of very woolly sheep. This was northern England at its very best. It really was stunningly beautiful.
Stopping in Leyburn, we sought out evening snacks and a box of Covid tests. Well, we did feel pretty rough, but back at the hotel we thankfully tested negative, so it’s just a bit of a bad cold for us both. After dancing our meteorological mambo all week with Storm Babet and having to endure her residual effects, this was actually rather good news indeed.
Sadly, neither of us even attempted to do anything once we were back at the hotel and sneezed and coughed our way through the rest of the afternoon and evening. One thing we’ve learnt as we journeyed through life is sometimes it’s best to capitulate, take medicine and rest to aid as speedy a recovery as possible, even if you’re on holiday.
Oh, and take a long hot bath as well. That always helps. We recommend you try it yourselves. We’ll see tomorrow morning if this comprehensive approach has been effective…
Sadly, I woke to find it hadn’t! It felt like someone had been poking my chest with a sharp stick, so I’ll keep this swift and succinct. We checked out of the King’s Head after a breakfast both of us could barely taste, drove to Harrogate on yet another very grey and misty morning and had a wander around peering at its architectural beauty. Jan was on familiar territory as she lived in the town for 13 years. We met some friends for lunch, then drove straight back to Gloucester, having covered just under 1400 miles in all. Despite our illnesses and the crappy weather at the tail end of our holiday, we had a splendid time, as did Roger the Renault, who performed faultlessly throughout.
We pulled into our driveway and guess what – the cats were waiting…
Rosebank House Bed & Breakfast, Main Street, Strathyre, Callander FK18 8NA Scotland. Our en-suite room was spacious, very comfortable and extremely, wonderfully, monastically quiet. Wifi, TV and tea and coffee making facilities are available in each room. Three course Italian evening meals cooked by Davide can be provided at £20 per head (2023 prices) and packed lunches can be made up for walkers and hikers. This is a facility I can say with absolute certainty that Jan and I will never use.
Sharon and Davide can be contacted on 01877 384208
Alnwick Lodge, West Cawledge Park, Alnwick NE66 2HJ. Breakfast is provided.
Phone 01665 604363 or 01665 603377
The King’s Head, Market Place, Masham, Ripon HG4 4EF. Room only. Breakfast can be purchased in the pub restaurant.
Phone 01765 689295