Another fabulous weather day in the Shetlands. Waking up docked in the port – it was great to see the fishing boats looking very pretty reflected in the water.
Fishing boats at Lerwick dock and views out of the window en route to the ferry
In the morning we took a small ferry over to the island of Mousa (which is above in the distance) to take a 99 minute walk around it and see the broch (a round house over 2000 years old and in very good condition).
The Shetlands were settled by the Danes and they feel more more like places I’ve seen in Scandinavia and Greenland than other parts of Scotland.
Things we saw on the beautiful isle of Mousa
Outside and inside the broch
Sweaters and scarves in the making
After Mousa I spent a couple of hours wandering around Lerwick – lovely people and gorgeous spot. Although I know I could never live somewhere as remote as the Shetlands, I do see why those that do love it here and wouldn’t live anywhere else. Certainly one of my favourite places I’ve visited
There is an old fortress in the centre of town
Views from Fort Charlotte
And the town hall has a giant hall with a lovely array of stained glass windows depicting characters from Shetland and Danish history.
Lerwick Town Hall
Houses in Lerwick with views to die for
The pilot leads us out of the port as we depart the Shetlands and Scotland
And even though I always swear I will not buy another scarf I had to buy this fair isle knit made with super fine merino. Happy with that purchase and it won’t take up much room!
Next stop up the Scottish coast was Invergordan. Rather than go into Inverness, I decided to visit Glenmorangie (which translates to Glen of Tranquility) Distillery and enjoyed the tour and learning some of the secrets of making good whisky. I have also realised that I like whisky best with some water added (but never ice)! I also found out that they age the whisky in casks from the sherry region of Spain and the port regions of Portugal – both of which I’ve toured over the past two years. Nice to see recycling in action.
Studying hard to understand the ins and outs of whisky making
Feeling very mellow we stopped off at Dornoch – a sweet little town with apparently a very famous golf course which was lost on me but I walked up to take a look anyway – but very quiet on a Sunday afternoon! Well I thought it was sweet until I learned that back in the 1200s the Bishop introduced a new “butter tax” – turned out to be one tax too many for the locals so they captured him and drowned him in a vat of boiling butter…,
Church in Dornoch and the famous Golf Course
Today we docked at Scrabster – a short shuttle ride into Thurso or a leisurely 45 minute coastal walk.
Seabourn Ovation docked at Scrabster
I decided you can never know too much about whisky making so today visited another single malt distillery called Old Pulteney in Wick and worked hard at tasting a lot of different drams (allin the name of self edu action) including a couple of cask strength – which I’ve learned is the whisky as it is in the barrel before water is added and it is bottled. In other words – bloody strong but not at all bad:)
I didn’t know that Wick used to house a Nazi Prisoner of War camp which also included quite a few ordinary German soldier PoWs – some of whom used to help farm the land and settled there permanently after the war.
In and around Wick
Also Wick officially has the smallest street in the world – Ebenezer Place – it stretches from the first E to the last E.
The smallest street in the world
On to John O’Groats which for my non British readers is the most Northern part of the UK (Land’s End being the furthest south). It’s kind of cool to visit this well known part of the country and I liked the sign pointing due south to Bluff NZ.
The long and winding road – that ends at John O’Groats
John O’Groats in the sunshine
I also now realise why Scotland is hard to beat when the sunshine shines – which it did all day. We could clearly see all of the Orkney Islands from JoG and often none of them are visible so very lucky.
Then had a lovely hour in Thurso – the most northerly town in the UK and as it was so sunny I walked back along the coast to the ship.
Coastal walk from Thurso back to the ship. Perfect waking weather.
I should have remembered that a summer’s day in Scotland means a lot of rain and my first morning in Edinburgh was no exception. It bucketed down.
Edinburgh in torrential summer rain
However that evening I ventured out again and it had cleared up which was just as well as I was going to watch the outdoor Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo – which operates come rain or shine.
Finally the rain stops as the evening starts
It only rained in the last five minutes and I’m so glad I went as it’s an incredible experience worth doing once in your lifetime – it’s not cheap!! Attached some photos of the marching bands and video too – spectacular.
The Tattoo in front of Edinburgh Castle
Finally on day 2 of our Edinburgh stopover the rain stopped and how much better the city looked. I had fun wandering around the old Town but I especially liked “New Town” with its lovely Georgian buildings – apparently the largest Georgian style residential area in the world. Also lots of cool boutiques and artisanal type shops. Definitely swanky around here and not swarming with Festival tourists.
Sometimes the sun comes out in Edinburgh in August!
Georgian splendour in Edinburgh New Town
It is Edinburgh festival time which means the population swells considerably and it’s both fun and rowdy – I would love to return for a two week stay – one when I would blitz festival events and one before it starts so I can be a tourist without the hordes!! Maybe next August.
I did manage to visit the National Gallery of Scotland which is undergoing renovations but has a very respectable collection of all “the big names” from Vermeer and Rembrandt to Titian and Reynolds and of course a great selection of Scottish painters.
A selection of art from the National Gallery of Scotland
Finally it seemed like numerous people I know were also in Edinburgh at the same time. Some I just missed because they’d been and gone and others were arriving after I left but I did manage to catch up with an HSBC connection that I first met when I worked in Vancouver back in the 90s and then again when we both spent a fair bit of time working in Hyderabad. We nearly connected in Bermuda last year but she was moved just before I arrived so it was all the more special to catch up with Jane and also to meet Jackie – another HSBC alumni.
Me, Jane and Jackie contemplating how small the world is!
Ominous clouds on a typical summer’s day in the UK did not lead to any actual rain – although as I’m writing this things have changed for the worse.
Nice to drive through the North East countryside from the Cruise terminal at Newcastle to Alnwick Castle – the ruined castle below is at Warkworth and the bridge is crossing the River Coquet (and I’d never heard of them either!
The countryside in the north east of England
First impressions of Alnwick Castle are impressive – it is owned by the Duke of Northumberland and has been inhabited continuously since the 1100s. After Windsor it’s the second biggest inhabited castle in the UK.
Approaching Alnwick Castle
But it has seen a 40% rise in visitors since the first two Harry Potter movies were filmed there and then a couple of the Downton Abbey specials were also filmed there.
The two ladies below are visiting from LA (one works at the Universal Park there in the HP section). As you can see they were dressed to fit in perfectly and no doubt tried the broomstick training on offer! I loved their style.
Two Harry Potter fans dressing the part
The castle design is very “trad English Middle Ages” and fearsome too. Not an easy place to attack – and the Scots did try back in the day. No interior photos allowed – ridiculous!
Scenes from the castle
The gardens are arguably an even bigger draw. Developed from a derelict state by the Duchess of Northumberland – she used crowd funding to enable a complete revamp of the grounds (I should point out this family is worth about GBP 350 million but hey, if you can convince others to give you more – then good luck to you!).
Below is a falcon who was doing his thing and part of the children’s garden where a female giantess lives hence the massive bloomers and bra on the line:)
Falcon, the Giantess’ bloomers and the water feature
The gardens are huge and a mix of ornamental gardens, space for adults to relax on giant swings, water features, forests, rose gardens and a maze as well as a stunning wrought iron gate that only the Duchess has the key to.
Clematis, roses and poppies
The wrought iron gate and the maze
The Ornamental Gardens
The best part though was the 20 minute tour of the Poison Garden – the largest in the world. And yes it is what it sounds like and that’s why you have to be taken around because touching anything in here let alone breaking a twig and having contact with the sap is potentially a killer. The guide takes you around looking at plants that many people have in their gardens and tells you all sorts of stories of how people came into contact with the berries, the sap, the smoke of burning twigs or the poison generated by cuttings in the back of a car and tells you all the gory ends that many had. It is not for the squeamish but it was fascinating. They even have a “legal illegal” marijuana plant.
The point of all this is to educate kids about the dangers of drugs and how seemingly harmless plants can kill you!
By the time we were done I was glad I’d nearly always lived in apartments with a pot on the balcony – way safer……
The Poison Garden
And then I saw something I’ve never seen in the wild before – a baby hedgehog. Not many of those in West Kensington where I grew up so was very excited!!
Another long weekend in the country. First stop with Lorna and Sylvie was Cambridge. We visited Kettle’s Yard – a lovely house in the centre of town with an eclectic art and natural wonders collection. Really nicely put together and timed tickets so limited numbers allowed in at the same time – free though:). Yes that is a Lowry – the guy who owned this place – Mr Ede – was well connected but he chose to not include any labels so people could enjoy the home rather than focussing on the names.
After lunch we walked through Cambridge with Sylvie (who lives nearby and went to university there) as our guide. Such gorgeous buildings and so many famous alumni. Cambridge is well known for its science faculty in particular and it is where Crick and Watson discovered the genetic code (or the meaning of life as they liked to put it). In true British fashion on making this discovery they repaired to the local pub for a pint to celebrate – a blue plaque marks the spot!
Then to finish off the day it was a quick look around the Fitzwilliam Museum which has an impressive collection of middle European art and is housed once again in a fab building. We finished off with drinks and then dinner (with another friend Miriam) at Parker’s Tavern.
Then a long overdue visit to Mayfield in East Sussex to visit my lovely friends Barbara, Reuben and Claire (surprise for me as thought she wasn’t coming out) and not forgetting Billy Whizz (the schnauzer). Being Barbara our first stop was the local Xmas craft fayre – very nice things and I didn’t grumble about Xmas too much (for me). Then delish home cooked dinner at Barbara and Reuben’s beautiful home and nice long country walk on a very sunny Sunday morning before stuffing our faces at the local pub with a traditional Sunday roast. It was a lovely way to spend my last weekend and it is hard to beat the English countryside when the weather and the colours are this spectacular.
And finally the shout out and picture gallery of my friends who made my month in the UK so memorable. Firstly to Lorna who so kindly had me and my two suitcases in her house for the whole time – she is a saint! Then to those who put me up overnight at their abodes – Barbara and Reuben, Susan and Gary, Natasha, Sue, Miriam and Christine. And to all the others who fed and watered me but most importantly reminded me how lucky I am to have them in my life – Cheryl, Rebecca, Becky, Gilly, Chris, Jo, Sylvie, Merrilee, Jill, Mark, Joanna, Len, Jonathan, David, Viv, Peter and Hedy, Alistair and Susanna, Michelle, Nigel and Ellie (and for the eagle eyed, yes that is Yotam Ottolenghi in one photo – best buddies (for five minutes anyway).
And that’s it from the UK for a few months. Next stop – a month in Seville.
On my visits to London I don’t often venture beyond the M25 so it was time to change that – obviously!
First stop was Durham to visit my friend Christine who is boldly doing an English lit degree there and seems to be loving it. First stop was a quick walk around the cathedral as the sun started to set. This is a highlight of a trip to Durham as it is pretty darn large. The pic bottom left is actually a Lego representation of the Cathedral and miniature poppies.
On the next day Christine took me on a mystery trip which turned out to be lunch at Raby Hunt near Darlington – a 2 Michelin star restaurant. I posted pics of every course on FB and Insta so below is just a sample:)
The Autumnal colors in the road by the restaurant were lovely. And I also loved the transparent representations of lost soldiers from the locations they originally came from which are dotted all over the UK at the moment – with a card giving the name of the person and when they died.
On the Sunday we headed to the local Farm shop and en-route we saw animals! Including cute piglets and the scary boar – Big Dave
Onwards and upwards after that to Berwick on Tweed where my cousin Cheryl lives. Her sister Gilly also came up from London and Cheryls husband Bob and daughter Rebecca were also there. Our family gets together about once every 20 years so this was an achievement – especially nearly in Scotland.
Scenes from Berwick on Tweed. This is where Lowry painted a lot of his most famous pictures.
Back in the UK and Autumn is in full swing. Had a few theatre visits but mostly catching up with friends. Lovely evening in London near Tower Bridge to watch (a very bad unfortunately) play at The Bridge Theatre (a very nice new theatre). Also a trip to the Churchill War Rooms was fascinating and really well done – gets my strong recommendation for visitors to London. The telephone box sculpture is in Kingston where I am stating on this visit with my friend Lorna.The braved the rail strikes to visit my friends Sue, Gary and Rebecca. Frome is a charming small town which has become very hip in recent times. Lots of quaint buildings in the old town
And then on to Southampton and Romsey to see Natasha. The Autumn weather was perfect for a nice long walk in Romsey and the Harold Hillier Garden. The English countryside at this time of year is hard to beat.