Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Scotland - an epic post

I HAVE been meaning for a while to tell you all about our long weekend in Scotland back in August however it has taken me an age to sort through the pics. And because I did them in spurts I am not even sure yet that I have gone through them all. How and ever the trip was great and I have been determined to post about it and even though I have probably posted my favourite pics from the trip to hell with it I’ll probably post them again.

Isle of Skye

Panoramic Isle of Skye 2

View large here.

The idea to go to the Highlands had been mooted between me and Mymsie (do check out her website her work is amazing) whom I met through Flickr ages ago. She lives in LA with her husband and beautiful daughter. Having spent time in Dublin and being married to a Raheny man she makes annual trips back to Dublin and for the last three years we have been meeting up.

Wizard in Dublin Castle Custom House Square - Belfast Flickr Meet Up - Flickr legs
Dublin Meet Belfast Meet

She was the first person I had a photo meet with three years ago (once she assured me she wasn't a stalker ;) ) when we met in real life for the first time and spent the day walking and talking the legs off each other getting some great shots along the way. I had literally just got my Nikon D50 and it was Mymsie, a Canon woman, who helped me decipher the knobs and whistles on it.

Last year I took her to Belfast for the weekend where we met up with a group of Belfast Flickr people, once again having a ball.

Given that we have done Dublin and Belfast this year on her visit we decided to do a mini-road trip around the Highlands. Flights were booked, a car was hired and we pretty much left everything else to chance. We were flying from Belfast in the early afternoon so Mymsie stayed with us that night allowing us to get up at the crack of dawn the next morning and get the bus to Belfast, thanks to the newly improved 24-hour bus service. What a difference to years ago when Ulsterbus only ran a weekend service to Dublin, leaving on Friday and returning on Sunday evening.

Outside busaras

Once in Belfast we hopped on the train to City Airport where we flew to Inverness and picked up our lovely hired car. The first night was the only night we had actually booked accommodation in a youth hostel not far from Loch Ness. Of course it was rainy, the really wet (is there any other kind but you know what I mean) misty rain but we had a lovely drive around the Lochs stopping for pics here and there while heading for the youth hostel. The hostel was great; we had a six-bed room for the three of us and only £15 a night each. It also had wifi as well as some DVDs for guests.

midgee bench




So that evening after our photographic frolics we brought back supplies, ie food, munchies and booze and settled down to watch a DVD on my laptop before using the internet to watch some online TV shows. It was that night that I discovered Scottish midges are worse than Irish ones, they bite HARD leaving welts. While out for a ciggie at one stag we spent more time swatting our faces and bodies before admitting defeat and heading back indoors. By the end of the weekend while Mymsie and the Young Wan also found them annoying, the midges seemed to prefer to eat me. I was like a pox victim on the way home with some 50 bites on me, not counting the bites on my scalp which were numerous. They somehow managed to find their way up my trousers as well as the bites on my knee testified to.


Isle of Skye

We then made our way to the Isle of Skye doing a circuit of the island, only of course it wasn’t as straight forward as that. Friday evening was spent in a lovely port town Portree and spent a frantic hour calling into every B&B hoping for three beds only to find them all full up. Our last resort was the hotel in the harbour which did have rooms. So we had a back-up and then we spotted a door with a sign for accommodation beside a very popular chipper. I called the number and we had a family room with adjoining kitchen booked overlooking the harbour. And it was really lovely, fantastic views, and our own space to cook dinner.

Fish and chips in Portree

Sunrise over Portree harbour


So off we went around the town taking pics before bringing back dinner. We attempted to book the place again for the next night but unfortunately they were booked up so we decided to go on around the island. That was when the fun really began.

During this circuit we stopped to take pics of this amazing rock formation which had all misty clouds passing through them. As I got out of the car I heard ‘ppppssssttttt’ and asked Mymsie had that noise been there the whole time. Apparently it hadn’t. We had a puncture and where in the middle of no-where. Great. I didn’t even get a pic I was happy with.

Maybe if we drove on a bit we might come across a small town or village, we thought. However we only managed to get about a mile up the road before the wheel started flumping and that was that.

Pulling over to the side of the road, it was a case of looking at each other wondering how we were going to sort this out. I mean I am not even a driver so felt completely useless. We called the number on the rental agreement and a rescue-person was dispatched. In the meantime we decided to see what we could do, after all we are women hear us roar or something like that.

Looking into the boot of our Renault Scenic revealed nothing; no tools, no spare wheel, WTF. We pulled the car apart, lifting up seats, looking into hidden compartments, consulted the manual before locating the necessary tools stashed away in a compartment under some of the many seats in the car and realising the spare wheel was contained under the car and had to be wound off using one of the strange implements.

Jaysus it takes some strength to release the nuts on the wheel, we all had a go before Mymsie finally released them all and proceeded to haul off the flat tyre.


Me trying to fiddle the wheel off


car troubles

While all this was going on, car after car of men drove past us with the occupants maintaining a steady forward gaze, never allowing their eyes to veer to the side in case we made eye-contact and they would be forced to stop and help. They reminded me of those feckers who drive in yellow boxes and pretend to not notice the car horns or dirty looks from other drivers.

Its okay we dont neeedd annnyyyy heeelllppp....
One of the many cars that passed by

One camper van with a man and woman did stop but only at the woman’s insistence obviously.

The conversation went something like:

Her: “Do you need any help? Are you sure?

Him: “You don’t need any help, sure you don’t?

We assured them we had it covered, which we did at that stage and off they went.

the victor and her prize

We need no stinkin men we have stinkin hands

So once we had wound up the thingie that clamped the wheel to the bottom of the car, threw the dude wheel into the boot as well as the jack and the rest and taken more photographs mostly of sheep; we were on our way again.

One changed punctured tyre

Rush hour (cliche name I know)


A call was made to the rescue people and we told them that sisters were doing it for themselves and we didn’t need assistance anymore, they also gave us advice on the capabilities of the temporary wheel, don’t drive over 50mph and don’t drive further than 100 miles.

This kinda curtailed things a bit for us. Instead of moving on from the Isle of Skye to somewhere else, after a circuit of the island we had to make our way back to Inverness so we could get to a Kwik Fit the next day (Sunday) to change the replacement wheel.

We did flirt with the idea of taking the ferry onwards from the Isle of Skye but as we were doing the road trip on a budget the fact the ferry would cost more than £70 and we were not guaranteed a return trip the next day we decided against it.


Scotland 5

That and the wheel situation sealed our decision to drive back towards Inverness with the hope of getting accommodation along the way. No hope.

We ended up right back in Inverness a good few hours later before we saw what appeared to be a lovely B&B, at this stage it was 10.30pm and I was really afraid we would end up sleeping in the car. So we quickly pulled over and I ran to the front door which said ‘vacancies’ hoping that meant three vacancies, I was also ridiculously afraid that someone would pip me to the front door, in the preceeding couple of hours drive all we passed were ‘no vacancies’ signs.

The owner of the B&B answered the door and said she did have space for three and I got the feeling she was expecting me to hand her money there and then at the front door. Unfortunately I didn't have any so said I would get some but KEEP the room. She pointed out a nearby cash machine which I walked over to and realised that she was running along side me sideways, like a crab.

The Young Wan was looking at me with an expression that said 'WTF' and I responded in kind. To say our new Chinese landlady's first impression was weird doesn't begin to describe it. She followed us to the bank machine; seriously. She seemed to be afraid that we would bunk off without paying money, but considering we hadn't even put a foot in the door this was a bit rich and a bit too much for me.

However beggars can't be choosers and we had been looking for somewhere to stay for hours so this would do. The fact that the weekend was a bank holiday in Scotland didn't help matters. We were also told there was wifi which was great or it would have been if it stretched to the room we were in.

It would be convenient for them if we had breakfast at 9.30am, they told us, no problem we said. However as it turned out this had nothing to do with convenient, the breakfast was microwaved, it doesn't get more convenient that microwaving. Turns out they want their dining room back at 9.30am. The teeny tiny breakfast was disgusting, frazzled bacon, a strange egg, BEANS, I hate the slitherly fruits of the devil. And for the record people I am not so precious that I won't touch food that has been next to beans BUT beans are messy and if someone says they don't like beans, scrapping them off the plate and giving them the plate back is not on with a big smear of bean juice, uurgghhh. Seriously. It is a wet food, it’s not like lifting off a sausage, they were smeared all over the plate. It probably just wasn’t convenient to use a clean plate.

Oh and while I am on the subject of a morning fry; snazzily diagonally cut carrots isn't fry fodder either. I was amazed at this addition to the already small and mediocre breakie and so wanted to make my left-behind carrots spell out WHY? I resisted because I am not an intentionally rude person. As it turns out yer woman wasn't intentionally rude either, just rude, oh and weird, have I mentioned that yet? There'll be more to prove it coming now.

At that stage considering how hard it was to get accommodation and even though the place was weird and even though the breakfast stank, the beds were a back-killer; we figured better the devil you know. So I asked the woman if we could stay another evening. Bear in mind this was at about 10am so technically we were still on the previous night’s payment. So I was a little taken aback when she thrust her hand at me ‘you give me money’. Okay she didn’t exactly say that but might as well have, in fact it became our little in-joke over the next day or two.

So even though we are paid up to date, its only 10am and while I have every intention of giving her money, she could at least wait for us to once again go to the cash machine and get more money. But she can’t and keeps her hand thrust out for money mumbling something about high season and how she could rent out the room. Ehm yes you can and you have, TO US.

All I had on me at that moment was £40 when the room cost £60 as well as £20 key money, so technically when I handed over £40 she had the full compliment given the key money whatever that is.

And she wasn’t happy and again complained about how if we didn’t take the room she would lose money as she could rent it. At this stage I am beginning to get confused and annoyed. But I let it go and went into shower.

Later on when we got back to the place she came for the balance and when I handed her £20 she starts shouting ‘You only give me £30, you only give me £30’. Brilliant I could have sworn I gave her £40, besides when I gave her the money earlier I said ‘here’s £40’ and I reminded her of that saying if there was a problem she should have said it earlier. But what could I do, she of the awful B&B had the power there and I was forced to hand over another tenner.

But back to earlier when I got out of the shower and was going back into our room, another woman who worked there who had little English pointed to a row of ugly slip-on foam shoes saying ‘you put on you put on’. Having had enough of the lot of them I declined this offer firmly indicating my flip flops and went into our room to find both the Young Wan and Mymsie sitting subdued in the horrible funky foam things. She had caught both of them minutes before.

You wear these

Nothing left to do but get up and get the hell-skates out of there for the day, yer wan could wait for the balance we owed her and if she gave our room away, there would be hell to pay.

First stop was Kwik Fit where they told us they didn’t have our tyre model in stock so we would have to continue on the replacement wheel which would be fine as long as we stick to keeping below 50mph.

Kwik fit fitter

Which meant that we actually didn’t have to go all the way back to Inverness, how and ever we did so decided to spend the last day at Loch Ness and visit a souvenir shop to buy little Nessies.

Our time at the Loch was cut short because the midges decided to feast upon me and I spent the time smacking my face so we pottered around a shop where, if we had wanted to, we could have bought a London bus snow globe for some strange reason.

london bus in loch ness sovenir shop

One of the mad things about driving under 50mph was the impatience of the other drivers who spent most of the time up the arse of our car. Half of our driving involved pulling over to let people past. All in all it was a great couple of days and if I don’t see fish and chips for a while it will be too soon.

the best fish and chips 2

On the way back we flew in via Belfast and stopped off to see the Add to Set exhibition in the Waterfront, bumping into Alan in Belfast before having pints and sneaked-in pizza in one of the booths in the Crown Bar with Stephen and Nicky and then getting the bus back to Dublin.

While we had a wonderful time and attempting to do it on a budget, we still spent a fortune, I found the Highlands incredibly expensive. I have gotten better B&Bs in Ireland for the same price, and I found it obscene to pay between £8 and £10 for fish and chips.

The choice of food in the places along the routes and budget we were on was limited, mostly pub grub, burgers, fish and chips or steak. The scenery of course is epic, the mountains, the magnificent waterfalls and due to amount of rain over the summer they were even more magnificent. Mad landlady's, the puncture and fried food aside we had an absolute ball.

Jaysus that turned into an epic post, sorry if I lost you along the way. The full lot of pics can be viewed in a slideshow here.


Manuel said...

awesome.......I used to live in the highlands, a place called Ullapool. It is just are your photos....

Coastal Aussie said...

Terrific story Red Mum, and wonderful scenery.. but, wow that landlady was freaky. Glad to know you survived her BnB. :)

Red Mum said...

Thanks Manuel I'd say it was an impressive place to live, wet, but impressive :)

@Coastal aussie: the landlady was freaky, and we did lock the door at night in case we woke up to find our feet in THOSE slippers!

Amanda said...

I could not have put it better myself. I look forward to next year's trip!

Alan in Belfast said...

Epic ... and a great post. Was fun to bump into you at the Waterfront. I guess it's all gone and replaced with something else now!

Red Mum said...

@Mandy I wonder what we'll do the next time, we will have to try if possible to go somewhere we have both never been, failing that Donegal is always cool :)

@Alan in Belfast it was so funny to bump into you, a real bloggy coincidence, considering nearly everyone I met that weekend I have met through blogging and/or photography or, which is more accurate photoblogging ;)

Anonymous said...

red mum as it is my birthday soon, I request a very large version of photo 2.
thank you in advance

Anonymous said...

brilliant - as always - blog! i laughed out loud ... a lot!

Red Mum said...

@Lydia I shall see what I can do.

@anonymous thanks :)