The amount of hype this time of year always amazes me. Cook this recipe, buy this present, wear these clothes. All I really want for Christmas is to spend time with those dearest to me and capture magical memories.
We have managed both in the run up to Christmas.
Last Friday we went down to London by train and saw Brian and Robin’s Christmas Compendium at the Eventim Apollo in Hammersmith. We had a wonderful evening after having no idea what to expect. There were so many highlights a real eclectic entertaining mix. Interesting bits of science from gravitational waves to beaver scent glands. Great comedy and music rounded off with Duran Duran!
Fortunately we had booked a hotel in Hammersmith as the show began at 7pm and did not finish until 11:15pm. We would have missed so much if we had rushed to catch the last train.
We had a lovely day on Saturday. We had a wander around Stamfords Travel bookshop and made a few additions to our Christmas shopping. This is definitely a place we will be returning to, just loved the range of books and travel related bits.
We then walked towards Euston via Covent Garden. We enjoyed the Wellcome Collection near Euston and the welcome company of family.
Cape Clear Island was easy to reach from Baltimore. We did several circuits of the little harbour as all of the walls had no berthing signs. The space for yachts was at the harbour entrance and after our initial misgivings turned out to be a comfortable spot with water on tap and access to the shore by a steep ladder. We enjoyed a walk around the fairly steep lanes. It is a relatively undeveloped island with a bar, shop, school and heritage centre. A ferry arrives from the mainland each morning with visitors. It is a Gaeltacht (Irish speaking) area and home to artists and writers.
We had seen high winds and rain forecast for the weekend so we headed for Schull on the mainland with the intention of mooring in Crookhaven to see out the impending storm. Unfortunately the weather closed in a little quicker, and we found ourselves moored offshore in Schull harbour. It became difficult to access the shore as the winds increased.
The entrance to Kinsale is dramatic. Lush green hills, Charles Fort on the right and the remains of James Fort on the left. We walked to Charles fort the following day. It is a 17th century star shaped castle (a design to resist attack by canon). It was named after Charles II and was built to protect the harbour and town of Kinsale. It was important in the Williamite War 1689-91 and the Irish Civil War 1922-23. It was occupied by a British Army garrison for 200 years. It was declared a National Monument in 1973.
We sailed on to Courtmacsherry (locally known as Courtmac), a small seaside town. We walked along the Seven Heads path which included woodland, coastal path and a fuschia walk. The friendly locals helped us to moor on the small pontoon there.
Glandore (Cuan Dor or harbour of the oaks) was our next stop. A pretty village where we enjoyed a good meal in the bistro by the harbour. We walked to Drombeg Stone Circle where excavations in 1957 revealed a central pit containing the cremated remains of a youth. Especially interesting was the fulacht fiadh. There was a trough filled with water from a well. It was heated by rolling fire warmed stones into it. In an experiment in 1957 they heated 70 gallons of water up to boiling point in 18 minutes. Meat could be cooked in it and it could remain hot for 3 hours. The adjoining hut appeared to contain the remains of a roasting oven. Very civilised for 1100 – 800BC.
Our next port of call was Castletownshend, which as the name suggests is a village that developed around a castle. We walked up the hill to the one small shop followed by refreshments in the castle cafe by the waters edge. The Mary Ann pub served us a good meal and a sup of guinness.
On our journey to Baltimore we stopped at Loch Hyne. This is an unusual seawater lake. We walked partially around it and climbed a nearby hillside. Water from the sea rushes into the lake with the tide causing a section called the rapids. We took the dingy over these at half tide, which was great until we tried to get back. Fortunately a friendly family of kayakers helped to pull us against the tide.
We took a bus to Skibbereen from Baltimore. It was a characterful town with a high street of brightly painted buildings. No chain stores here, we were told that the supermarket ‘Fields of Skibberrean’ was famous (there are lots of apparently famous places in Ireland though). The visitor centre was interesting with lots of information about the Irish famine and Loch Hyne that we had visited the previous day. We had a lovely lunch in The Church restaurant, a tastefully restored building.
We had a good crossing from Scilly to Cork (23 hours), meaning the winds were a little too exciting at times. It was a very quiet crossing with no sightings of other boats, a little disconcerting especially at night. We checked the AIS just for reassurance. On Richards watch we passed two gas rigs then saw little else before glimpsing the Irish coast.
After mooring the boat in Crosshaven Marina we caught a bus into Cork. We wandered around, saw the sights and really enjoyed stretching our legs.
We left the boat in Crosshaven and flew home to England the next day.
On our return to Crosshaven, two weeks later, we replenished our supplies. There is a good supermarket in Crosshaven, these become a rarity as you travel west.
We sailed over the bay to the colourful town of Cobh. This was an interesting place because of its links to the voyage of the ill-fated Titanic.
The Titanic exhibition was well presented. Our tickets held the name of a titanic passenger. At the end you found out if they were one of the survivors, Richard survived and I didn’t. There were reconstructions of cabin interiors which looked quite luxurious, with proper furniture and running water.
We also visited an exhibition describing the mass emigrations from Ireland. The sheer the scale of it was shocking. The desperation that motivates people to flee their home countries on such treacherous journeys. Very relevant when you consider the migration that is happening today.
We had moored next to a restaurant so enjoyed a good lunch before setting off for Kinsale.
We did not travel far this weekend. A wander up the road took us to the local agricultural show. This was the 132nd show for the Blakesley and District Agricultural Society. This traditional rural show has classes for cattle, sheep,horses and some roots and corn exhibits together with a gymkhana, displays and trade exhibitors.
We arrived around lunch time and tucked into the hand carved roast beef rolls usefully located in the beer tent. Fortunately the glorious sunshine meant that this was not a Saturday to linger under canvas. We enjoyed a good stroll around the exhibitor stalls and animals. We watched a remarkable display by Atkinsons Action Horses who have “spent twenty years training horses and riders for TV, film and live events”. They provide horses and riders for Poldark (no sign of Ross though!). They galloped at fantastic speeds and carried out amazingly daring stunts, it was truly breathtaking.
On Sunday we enjoyed a 5 mile stroll to a local hostelry via green lanes and fields. We are surrounded by beautiful countryside and the quiet roads are popular with cyclists, horseriders and walkers. There are many footpaths and bridleways intersecting the roads enabling us to return home via a different 4 mile route after a light lunch.
In an effort to use our National Trust membership we visited this house and gardens. It is a former hunting lodge owned by the de Rothschilds. The house contained paintings that included works by Gainsborough, Reynolds and Stubbs. There is a variety of oriental porcelain and rare 18th century English and French furniture. We enjoyed the gardens which were more varied in style and extensive than we had realised (30 acres).
A wander around the house and grounds followed by tea and delicious carrot cake was a relaxing way to spend a Sunday afternoon.
Sometimes we go sailing (not often enough Richard would say). We are fortunate to have the use of a 11m yacht (Rag and stick type not gin palace!) As we do not own this beautiful vessel I have decided to give her a virtual name. Having sometimes sailed in France I thought the name ‘Virtuelle’ would suit her well.
Last Sunday we cast off early from Falmouth, and plotted an initial course past the Lizard. We then changed to 275 degrees heading due West for the Isles of Scilly. We have made this journey many times and average a 12 hour crossing. We like to leave early in the morning to arrive in daylight and avoid sailing over night.The moorings at Tresco sound were fairly busy so we found a sandy patch to drop our anchor.We had a wander around Tresco the next day and revisited Tresco Abbey gardens. This sheltered spot is home to a variety of unusual plant species. Agapanthus grow wild amongst the sand dunes bordering breathtakingly beautiful beaches of glistening white sand.
This was a short visit to Scilly. We sailed to Cork, South West Ireland, the next day in preparation for the next stage of our holiday.
After completing our walks we returned to the car and travelled on to Pitlochry. We stayed at the lovely Derrybeg B&B. Had an evening meal at Victoria’s restaurant-good food with friendly and efficient service. In the morning we visited the Pitlochry Dam and Fish Ladder. The dam was built between 1947 and 1951 to generate electricity. It also formed Loch Faskally flooding the site of the Pitlochry Highland Games field. The fish ladder was designed to enable 5000+ salmon to pass upstream. It consists of a series of 34 chambers with three resting chambers. The fish can be viewed in one of the resting chambers.
On the way to Edinburgh we stopped at Scone Palace, the crowning place of the Kings of Scotland (including Macbeth). I seem to be finding Shakespeare links everywhere since completing Shakespeare’s Way! Scone palace also housed the Stone of Destiny until the English pinched it (although there seems to be a suggestion that the one at Westminster isn’t the real one either). Another link to a previous post was having a cream tea, which was actually more a cream lunch.
We arrived in Edinburgh Friday afternoon. We stayed at the Apex hotel in Grassmarket (comfy with great breakfasts).
I love Edinburgh, I like cities that you can walk around. There are lovely Georgian streets with Edinburgh castle perched upon Castle Rock. The Pentland Hills to the south of the city offer a picturesque contrast.
We wished that we had more time to spend touring around Skye. We just spent one day there taking many photographs. We walked along the Quiraing to the needle, which I found a little slippery underfoot. It made me appreciate how well the National Trust maintains footpaths. This was an area for experienced hill walkers. The views though were amazing, I think I will let the pictures do the talking.
We stayed over night in a lovely bed and Breakfast called Tingle Creek near to Kyle of Lochalsh. We enjoyed a good meal in a nearby village called Plockton
From their we travelled on to Aviemore via Loch Ness. We stopped at Urqhuart Castle on Loch Ness. We had a picnic lunch in the sunshine, explored the castle and then drove towards Inverness stopping to view the Caledonian canal and the river Ness.
Aviemore is a functional town giving easy access to the Cairngorms. We had a comfortable stay in the Cairngorm Hotel which is an old railway hotel. The next day we tackled the peaks. We walked up from the base station to the restaurant and then the summit. I would advise walking up if you are able, as they do not allow you access to the summit if you take the funicular railway. We then had a relaxing descent by the railway giving us time to complete a further walk around Glen More.
Again this was a lovely part of Scotland, and we would have loved to have spent more time exploring this area also.