The Bear is Back!
It has been six long months since my last blog (Madeira in November 2000). I was itching to get back on the road again, and as soon as the UK’s Covid restrictions were partially lifted I was off. This time I am visiting Scotland. This is a place that has been on my “must visit” list for many years, but I always told myself I could leave it for later, when, as an older bear, I wouldn’t be so confident traveling around places like Iran or Kyrgyzstan.
This year I had no excuse to postpone my Scotland trip any longer. As a British bear, it is one of the few places to which I am allowed to go, May is the best time visit (before the ferocious midges start biting in June) and – rarity of rarities – the weather forecast was good. What’s more, I have some Scottish blood from distant ancestors who lived in the Scottish Highlands when bears roamed free there. My family has its own tartan and I even have my own kilt.
I plan to drive up from London and see the Scottish islands and the far North, avoiding the cities of Edinburgh and Glasgow which can be more conveniently reached by train (for a next visit). Remembering just how long the UK is, I decided to stop over in Penrith, just before the border in the far north of England, on the way up; probably I will also stop somewhere on the way back.
On my first day I drove up from London without incident, through industrial Birmingham and past Manchester until I reached the Lake District. There I decided to do some sightseeing and avoid the monotony of the motorway. My first stop was the pretty castle of Sizergh, which is more than 800 years old and has the home of the Strickland family for its entire existence.
The castle itself was not open for visiting, but it has beautiful gardens set out in a range of styles including a Japanese-style garden…..
……..and a beautiful orchard.
From Sizergh I drove to Kendal, a town well-known for being the gateway to the Lake District. Although Kendal must once have been a pretty market town and still had many nice old buildings, what struck me most was how poor the place looked – every third shop was a bargain discounter, and every fourth a charity shop. The remainder were cheap restaurants, the now ubiquitous barber shops, or simply closed and boarded up – unable to survive Covid on top of Amazon’s onslaught. Though disappointed by Kendal, my route did allow me to take an extremely scenic backroad to Penrith. It was well off the beaten path – maybe because there were no famous lakes in this part of the Lake District – but still a really beautiful drive.
I arrived in Penrith in the late afternoon and found the small hotel I had booked for a quick overnight stay. After a short rest to get over my drive, I headed to explore the town. It was a pretty place, with nice old buildings and a ruined castle.
I had dinner in a pub. It was the day that the Covid restrictions were lifted, and the time people could eat and drink inside pubs for six months, so there was a cheerful, busy atmosphere.
The next day I continued the long journey up to Scotland. I crossed the border shortly after departure and reached Glasgow in a couple of hours. After another thirty minutes negotiating the ugly web of motorways surrounding Glasgow, I was in the picturesque Trossachs national park, driving along the side of Loch Lomond. I made a quick stop in Luss, a pretty village on the side of the loch, to stretch my legs and have lunch.
The road continued north through increasingly wild and beautiful scenery to Oban, where I had a place booked on the ferry to Mull. It was good weather for driving, with a mix of sun, cloud and light rain that brought out the different colours of the vegetation.
Arriving at Oban. I just had time to buy some fresh scallops and crab from the fish shop next to the terminal before boarding my ferry.
The ferry made its way slowly through the Sound of Mull, threading its way through dozens of small islands, some inhabited, some completely wild. I stayed out on deck taking in the magnificent scenery, despite the occasional spot of rain – and was rewarded with the beautiful sight of a rainbow low down on the sea behind a lighthouse.
I arrived on the island of Mull into brilliant sunshine and drove the remaining thirty miles to the cottage I had rented in Tobermory. In places the road was single track – if you meet a car coming the other way, one of you needs to pull into a passing space to let the other driver past. There are lots of such passing spaces, and the locals are very familiar with this style of driving and wave you through with a cheery smile. The short road gave stunning views of the sea and the Scottish mainland around the channel, with the bright sunshine bringing out the yellows, greens and reds of the countryside.
The beautiful fishing town of Tobermory was also bathed in early evening sunlight when I arrived.
I checked into my cottage, which was perched on a steep hill above the harbour with an amazing view of the bay.
Even though it was getting late, the sun was still high in the sky – Tobermory is roughly the same latitude as Moscow and the days are very long in May. I took the opportunity of the glorious evening sunshine to take a short walk to the lighthouse, taking lots more photos on the way.
Fresh scallops for dinner, then I fell into bed, a tired but happy bear.