8 days touring Scotland part 1 Loch Lomond and Loch Fyne

 Scotland walking driving touring
Our driving route around Scotland.

The only place I had previously visited in Scotland was Edinburgh. Our aim was to get a general overview of the Scottish Highlands on a winding circular route ending in Edinburgh, where we were meeting with family. Richard had memories of grey, damp and dismal holidays around these parts. Fortunately the holiday far exceeded our expectations, the weather was amazing and meant the landscapes were a kaleidoscope of colour.

Passing by Loch Lomond
Passing by Loch Lomond
Top of Loch Fyne
Top of Loch Fyne
Our arrival at the Loch Fyne Hotel at Inveraray was very welcome after a day spent driving. We had stopped for lunch south of Loch Lomond (the salty soup cafe) and later for a wander around the shores. We arrived at the hotel in time for a gentle swim in the pool.
With our evening meal I experienced my first taste of an oyster (only one, but it was on my bucket list). It came with lemon juice so it just tasted of lemon juice really. Although not unpleasant it was strange to think you are eating something that it is still alive.

Vital Spark a fictional Clyde puffer featured in a BBC Scotland TV series seen at Inveraray
Vital Spark a fictional Clyde puffer featured in a BBC Scotland TV series seen at Inveraray
After an agreeable nights stay we had a quick wander around the town of Inveraray before continuing our journey.

Bluebells and sheep

A short walk last weekend gave us a break from the normal routine after a week at work. Its great to explore what is on your own doorstep.

Entrance to Badby woods
Entrance to Badby woods

A favourite short walk we have is around Badby woods near Daventry. This time of year the mixed deciduous woodland is carpeted with a sea of bluebells.
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We took a break at Fawsley Hall Hotel for a pot of tea and a couple of scones. It is possible to have the full monty afternoon tea here with sandwiches, cakes and even champagne. The scones were plenty for us and for once Richard could not manage to eat all of the clotted cream. If you book in advance you can eat in the Grand Hall which is especially attractive in the winter with a welcoming open fire.

Fawsley hall from churchyard.
Fawsley Hall from churchyard.

The Knightley Way is a footpath that passes by the lake and Fawsley Church. The remains of many generations of the Knightley family reside in the church. They bought the estate in 1316 and it remained in the family until 1932. In the 13th and 14th centuries there was a village called Fawsley which surrounded the church. In 1377 there were 90 men over the age of 14 paying Poll Tax to Richard II. By 1524 only 7 people were listed as paying it to Henry VII. The Knightleys were great sheep farmers and they enclosed lands for this purpose. They were a powerful family and even condemnation from Henry VII did not stop the village from disappearing. The parkland was landscaped by ‘Capability’ Brown and included lakes and a deer park. (Source ‘A Brief history of Fawsley Church and park’ booklet by Ron Wilson available from the church)

Sheep spotting

The green rolling hills west of Northampton
The green rolling hills west of Northampton

The landscape today is still dominated by sheep farming. As a townie I did not appreciate the many different breeds of sheep. By crossing different varieties of sheep, farmers ensure hybrid vigour, producing sheep which are biologically more healthy than a pure bred. In sheep farming they select a hardy hill sheep ewe e.g. Swaledale.
Swaledale sheep
Swaledale sheep (wikipedia)
These are crossed with a blue-face Leicester ram to produce a hardy mule ewe able to produce good quantities of milk.
Blue faced Leicester
Blue faced Leicester (wikipedia)
The ewes are then crossed with a muscular breed for meat production (e.g. Texcel ram).
Texcel ewe seen during our walk.
Texcel ewe seen during our walk.

"Badger faced" sheep
“Badger faced” sheep at Fawsley, love the legs!


Cream teas

Get that holiday feeling with afternoon tea in the garden.

Cornish and Devon
Cornish and Devon

The origins of the humble scone hail from a Scottish griddle baked bread. The origin of the name is more of a mystery with some suggesting a link to the Dutch word ‘schoonbrot’ meaning beautiful bread, while others say they are named after the Stone of Destiny where Scottish Kings were crowned.

The Duchess of Bedford (1788-1861) is credited with making the ritual of afternoon tea popular. She complained about feeling peckish mid afternoon and asked for tea and sweet breads which included scones.

There are two pronunciations of the word scone, one rhyming with con and the other with cone. Some argue the latter is the “posh” version but I believe it to be a regional difference. Apparently the con sounding pronunciation tends to be found further North. As a Southern belle I say s-cone and my posh hubby with Northern origins says s-con.

We both agree on how to serve our scones though. We eat ours the Cornish way, jam first then clotted cream.

Travel Cafe scone recipe Oven 200C or 180C fan Gas mark 6
250g SR flour
pinch salt
1 teasp baking powder
40g unsalted butter
1 egg plus 1tblsp greek yoghurt and water to 100ml beaten
20g caster sugar
50g sultanus

Rub butter into dry ingredients.
Add sugar
Stir in beaten egg and yoghurt
Knead gently to form dough
Roll out to 2cm thickness
Cut using 4cm cutter
Brush tops with egg or milk
Bake for 8-10 minutes

Serve with strawberry or raspberry jam and lashings of clotted cream

YUM ; )

In Shakespeare’s footsteps

We enjoy the slower pace of walking to cycling as walking enables you a greater connection with your surroundings. Fortunately it also dispenses with the need for lumpy lycra. In the interests of removing said lumpiness we chose to increase the distances covered when walking by embarking upon a long distance footpath called Shakespeare’s Way. This is a 146 mile way marked path that stretches between Stratford-Upon-Avon and the Globe Theatre in London. Aptly described as “a journey of the imagination” it allegedly winds along a route that the Bard himself may have travelled.

A crochet covered tree at the start of our walk. It was January so maybe the tree was cold?
A crochet covered tree at the start of our walk. It was January so maybe the tree was cold?

We divided the walk into ten 15 mile sections using a little book called Shakespeare’s Way from a website of the same name http://www.shakespearesway.org/ If you buy the book from the website profits go to the Shakespeare Hospice in Stratford-Upon-Avon. They also supply free path updates (our old version of the book suggested crossing an absent bridge across the Grand Union Canal). We found the ordnance survey app downloaded to our phone useful as you see exactly where you are relative to the path even in the middle of a field (£8.99 per region and you only need 2 or 3 for entire walk). We caught buses from the end point to the starting point for the pre Oxford stretches (timetables available online). Post Oxford buses were scarcer so we sometimes caught a taxi to avoid walking in circles (mostly £25 per ride).
The variety of landscapes surprised us from fields of open countryside, quaint market towns, canals, rivers, woodlands, Chiltern hills, M25 and London city

The grounds of Blenheim Palace
The grounds of Blenheim Palace
Walking into Oxford
Walking into Oxford
There were up and downsides to our trek because the great places we found to eat meant a possible imbalance between calories burned and calories consumed for each walk. Each walk was a great day out and the entirety merges into a long disjointed holiday (of 18 months duration).

Follow the Bard
Follow the Bard

We completed the final walk between Kew Gardens and the Globe Theatre on the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s demise. Walking along the south bank of the Thames was a great way to appreciate our wonderful capital city. Historic sights yes, but also green spaces and surprisingly crowd free considering that it was London marathon weekend.

Green banks of the Thames between Kew and the Globe
Green banks of the Thames between Kew and the Globe
Journeys end- the Globe theatre for a chilled glass of prosecco
Journeys end- the Globe Theatre for a chilled glass of prosecco 23rd April 2016

We had purchased tickets for Hamlet the same evening, but our tired tootsies could not be persuaded to stand for two hours (as groundlings), should have booked seats. Oh well another time……

Why a virtual travel cafe?

We travel not to escape life……… but for life not to escape us   (anonymous)IMG_0299

The idea for this website came from wanting to enliven the everyday.
One day we would love to give up work and walk or sail off into the sunset.
Mostly though we plan and dream of our escape from the comfort of our red wine coloured sofa.

The photo above was taken near the edge of Northampton. We don’t need to travel far to escape the ordinary, we just need to know where to look.

A real life travel cafe would offer travel ideas, comfy sofas and delicious food.

The Virtual Travel Cafe aims to inspire, fuel the imagination and hopefully take you further afield.