Monday, 21 May 2012

McBlog - Day 11: Final Blog

This is a short one:

Left Leigh and Jim in Tillicoultry, and drove to Peterborough, where I left Ben and Cain back in the capable (and lovely) arms of Michelle, and drove back to Dorset.

But my destination was not my home, but the home of my girlfriend, Adrienne. I was under strict orders to get to her as soon as possible as she was missing me very much.

To be fair, it wasn't a difficult choice - come home to an empty home or go to my the warm welcoming arms of a woman that loves me.

This morning I came back to my home, had a cup of tea, tidied up, and then put on my walking boots - with the caked on mud from the Highlands still on them - and went out for a 7 mile walk. Now here I am sat at home writing the last Scotland Blog.

And so ends my 2012 Scotland holiday - such a good holiday, I had so much fun.

Until next year!

Saturday, 19 May 2012

McBlog - Day 10: Leaving ( Sad Face)

Day 10 of my Scotland holiday started with cruel irony; after a week of cloudy, overcast, and rainy weather, today the weather was glorious. There was hardly a cloud in the sky, and it was lovely and warm.

Oh irony! What a ugly cow you are!

The first task today was to pack our things and tidy up, as we had to vacate the lodge by 10am. This gave me a chance for a final search for my ring (the one I bought from Skye Silver last year, and had brought with me this year). Sadly, after a long time my endeavours proved to be a fruit tree that has come under the scrutiny of trading standards after contravening the trade descriptions act: fruitless. There is a slim chance that my ring is somewhere safe amongst my possessions in a place I have overlooked, but I'm afraid that I am fearing the worst. But, at least I will have an excuse to go back to Skye Silver next year. And buy two rings.

Once we were all ready, we said goodbye to our lodge and drove down to the loch edge to take some final photos of the peaks that looked down on where we stayed - The Five Sisters of Kintail, and.....erm......another couple of peaks. But their names are not important; their beauty and majesty was. I can honestly say that the view from the loch was one of the most beautiful I have ever seen on my many visits to Scotland.

With heavy hearts, we drove away and headed on our way to Tillicoultry - the home of Leigh and Jim. But it wasn't a direct journey; we had stops to make enroute.

First up was Fort William, for a spot of retail therapy. I bought myself a 'Fat Face' t-shirt (that's the brand name, not what it said - who would buy themselves a t-shirt that said "Fat Face"? Unless it was someone who actually had a fat face and was proud to have it), and picked up some presents for my Girlfriend and her children.

What a lovely boyfriend I am - don't you agree?

Jim didn't do any shopping. Not because he is a bad Husband, but because he had to spend all his time restraining Jack who was particularly excitable after seeing a '3 for 2' offer on dog toys.

Shopping completed, we continued on our way. The next stop was the Clachaig Inn, in Glencoe. This was the place where I bared my bottom under the encouragement of my friends a week ago. I was a little nervous about returning, as I hoped that their motto of "We Never Forget a Face" was just clever advertising. Thankfully, I needn't had worried as we were welcomed as always. The food is always good there and we all enjoyed a good meal.

Well I did, and I just assumed everyone else did. I haven't heard any of the others complaining - so what do you want from me?

We left the Clachaig Inn and had a bit of a wander in Glencoe. Cain and Jim found their way into the middle of a small stream by stepping on rocks. Jack (being a loyal dog) followed Jim - even when Jim took a shorter route across the water back to Leigh, which meant that Jack had to get in the water - an experience he was clearly not used to or happy about. He had a distinct look of disdain on his face.

We then spent some time amongst the wonderful scenery of Glencoe. I took more photos, and will pick my favourite and will get it framed and put on my desk at work to remind me of one of my life goals; to eventually live in Scotland.

Having taken in our last views of Glencoe for a while (Jim and Leigh may be coming back up in a few months or weeks - the lucky, lucky, bar stools!), we got back in our cars and drove away.

This time, we were going to Tillicoultry. Well, via the Green Welly Stop shop (a few last minute purchases). Then we headed home.

Jim and Leigh's home.

And that is where we are now, all on our various devices, glancing up every now and then to watch the Champions League final on TV. Some of you might be thinking that we should not be so anti-social.

We have been living together for a week you know.

So I am no longer in the highlands. And my Scotland holiday is just about over.

But I am still with my friends. And that is very good.

Friday, 18 May 2012

McBlog - Day 9: A Good Day For Food......And Fighting Tomorrow's Dawn

Day 9 of my Scotland holiday arrived without fuss; I just opened my eyes, and there it was.

The weather today was surprisingly accurate, based on the IPhone Weather App's predictions - cloudy, but little chance of rain, and relatively warm.

One by one we all surfaced and gathered in the dining room to have breakfast, make no decision about what to do today, and be generally distracted and rubbish. Today's distraction came in the form of You Tube - and the particular talents of Mr. Tim Vine. We wasted a good hour laughing at a few videos of Tim's songs such as 'My Marvellous Metronome', 'Alarm Bells', and my personal favourite 'Allergic'. But the biggest laugh we got came from 'Flag Hippo' - about three minutes of pure genius. I appreciate that on just their descriptions alone you can't appreciate how funny they are, but if you go on YouTube and type these words in, and watch the videos, you will see just how funny they are.

Also, I just said "appreciate" twice in quick succession. I just hope you appreciate that this isn't a regular occurrence, and your understanding would be greatly appreciated.

Eventually we decided to try a hitherto untried walk near Loch Ness. We set off - but within 20 minutes, we had stopped because Jim was hungry. Now, Jim is a big lad and is rarely seen without something edible in his hands, and although he had eaten breakfast not one hour beforehand, he was feeling weak from lack of sustinance.

We had stopped at the RedBurn Cafe, which was about 7 miles from Loch Ness. We piled into the small cafe and were all ready to eat again - appetite is contagious. Various breakfasts were ordered - eggs on toast for Leigh, Bacon and Egg on toast for Jim, Ben and Cain, and I was very good and only had a full Scottish breakfast; 3x Bacon, 2x Sausages, 2x Potato Rosties, 2x eggs, Haggis, and Baked Beans.

Well, I am only a small bloke.

The breakfasts at the RedFern Cafe were awesome. We all loved it, and I would definitely stuff my fat face - I mean pick delicately at that food again. Once we were suitably full, we hit the road again.

The walk we were to try was at a small place called Invermoriston, and took us past some falls, that were very nice. After Invermoriston, we went over to Drumadrotich, and the Loch Ness visitors centre. We had a mooch round the various Nessie themed shops, and popped into the shop / booking office for the Loch Ness boat trip. Amazingly, the woman who runs the shop and takes the bookings remembered Leigh and Jim from last year (we went on a boat trip on the day they got married). She must see thousands of people every year, and yet she could remember Leigh and Jim. Mind you, Jim was eating a kebab, and probably was a year ago - so that would have stuck in her mind.

We didn't have a boat trip this year, and just came back to the lodge. But Ben was hungry and had no food at the lodge so wanted to go out to eat. Leigh and Jim had food at the lodge to use up, so they stayed while me, Ben and Cain went a short way down the road to the Kintail Lodge Hotel.

And a good job we did too! The food was amazing - large portions, great tasting food, and desserts so tasty you would leave your family for them. I had Venison and Red Wine Pie with chips and peas, and Ben had Haddock and Chips. Cain had Chicken Wrapped in Bacon stuffed with Haggis in a mushroomy type sauce. For Dessert Ben had Hazlenut Meringues with berries and cream, and I had Chocolate and Walnut Brownie with Ice Cream. Delicious just doesn't convey how good it was - and if it tried, I'd punch it in the face and send it packing.

Now we are back at the lodge about to
watch a film. Tomorrow we leave Ratagan and head back to Tillicoultry. I cannot emphasise enough how much I do not want to leave this place. I know I have family and friends in Essex, great friends and people I love dearly in Dorset, but I love Scotland so much. The scenery just takes my breath away, and to spend time here with my best mate and his son and Jim and Leigh who have known for over 20 years (and who have known me at my best and worst throughout those years) I have just had the best time ever. I couldn't ask for better friends.

Yes, we swear, belch, fart, bicker, argue, take the mickey, and wind each other up - but above all we laugh. Everyday we laugh, and that is a glorious thing - and I can only do this in this way, with these people. I never laugh like this with anyone else.

If tomorrow never arrives, I won't complain.

Thursday, 17 May 2012

McBlog Day 8: 2pm - 5pm: The Dead Hours

Day 8 of this years Scotland holiday took a while to get started. Not in terms of the actual day - we didn't wake up at 8am to find it still dark outside and the sun saying 'I don't want to get up yet, I'm tired!'. The trouble was that we as a group are rubbish at organising ourselves, and always leave it until the morning to decide what we are doing for that day.

The weather wasn't brilliant, and some people's walking boots were still wet (not Jim's - how does he do that?) so walking wasn't really on the cards. Leigh grabbed one of the maps that were left in the lodge to help indecisive cretins like us make the most of our time here, and we chose to travel up the coast a bit to a place called Gairloch, which - according to the map - boasted a dog friendly pub, boat trips, a museum, forest walks, kitten wrestling, seaweed architecture, and a full size re-enactment of the D-Day landings by the members of the local
W.I. (playing the Allied forces) and the local scout group (playing the Nazis).

So, something for everybody I'll think you'll agree.

We set off, pausing only by the loch at the end of our road to take photos of the now snow tipped peaks that looked down on us. But then we were on our way!

We chose a coastal route, which turned out to be not very coastal at all. Luckily, it did take us past many more snow tipped peaks which were beautiful to behold. It was quite a long journey (about an hour and a half) and at one point, Ben had to stop to fill up with fuel because he didn't think he had enough fuel to get to Gairloch and back (we didn't know if Gairloch had a petrol station - this is the Highlands). Ironically, the person serving in the petrol station was originally from Essex, just as all of us are.

Actually, is that ironic? Or just an interesting coincidence? Is it even interesting? Perhaps not; maybe I should have started that sentence with "By boring coincidence....". Or just not mention it at all. Oh well, too late now......

By the time we got to Gairloch, we all had one thing on our mind: food. We stopped at the Ox Inn, which Leigh had researched and found to be dog friendly. Sadly Jack isn't dog friendly, and as there were two dogs already in the bar area where we wanted to go, Jack had to be left in the car with a selection of CD's to listen to (Snoop Dog is his favourite, but he can't stand Cat Stevens).

Dog free, we went into the bar and ordered a round - two bitter shandys, half an ale, an orange J20 and a Coke. All for £8.75, which I felt was very good. Sadly, that is where the good feeling ended. We had intended to get some food while we were there, but the menu didn't inspire us, the food we saw other patrons eating didn't look appetising, and Ben found a pubic hair on his glass when he came to pour his J20 into it - which is enough to put anyone off. Even the paintings in the bar were off putting - a landscape of what was meant to be the rolling kills of heather running down to a loch, looked more like Death Valley. We decided to leave and find other sustenance 'in town'.

This would prove to be a mistake.

As we drove around town, we stopped at every hotel, restaurant, cafe, and food establishment of any kind in search of lunch. What became very apparent very quickly was the fact that everything in this town shut at 2pm and did not re-open until 5pm. Everywhere we went we turned up a blank. It was the strangest thing: all the signs said "lunch 12-2, dinner 5-8". As it was 2:15, we were out of luck.

But the whole town seemed dead. Did this 2pm to 5pm "void" in activity cover everything in the town? We're you 100 times more likely to die in a house fire if your chip pan went up between 2pm and 5pm, because the fire station was shut? Do the patients in intensive care have to "wing it" for three hours every day because everything shuts off at 2pm? Are the children at the local school all below the national average level for reading and arithmetic, because they get three hours less education per day than everyone else?

And where was everyone during this three hour window? Out sacrificing strangers to the Sun god in order to ensure good crops this year no doubt. It was really weird - and very frustrating.

Eventually we found a place that was open; a bookstore with a coffee house attached (or vice versa). The trouble is, they only served filled bagels and cakes, nothing more substantial. We had no choice but to take what they had to offer. Well, all of us except Cain. He had been so looking forward to having Fish and Chips that he just didn't want anything else, and wouldn't be tempted by the (really quite good) Bagels the rest of us were eating. He also had a right face on him - but he is a teenager, so what can you do?

Answers on a postcard to the "Beat Them Into Normal Behaviour With Their Own Spleen" competition, at the usual address.

After eating, we drove off in search of the Kitten Wreslting. On the way we saw a secluded beach that was just begging to be investigated. It was a bit of a scramble down, but once we made it we had the beach to ourselves. It had lovely smooth sand with almost no shells or seaweed at all. The sea was gently breaking on the shore in small waves, and it was a lovely place to be. Leigh and Jim gave Jack a bit of a run, and Cain climbed on some rocks while Ben and I held hands and gazed out to see and pondered what might have been. We then realised what we were doing and after a manly discussion about guns football and breasts, we decided to write messages in the sand for Leigh and Jim who had taken Jack further on.

Shortly Leigh and Jim returned with Jack and laughed at the messages written in the sand, which included "CHIP SHOP OPEN⬆", "HIYA LOVE", "BALDY + WHINEY", "ADVERTISE HERE", and "CHIP SHOP CLOSED ( we have crisps)"

These may not sound very funny - but they are. Trust me.

When it came time to scramble back up to our cars, we found that the tide had come in slightly and the place where we would start to climb was now wet. This wasn't a problem for me and Ben, but Jim and Leigh had to take a longer route back. Ben, Cain and I waited on a picnic table by the war memorial for Leigh and Jim, and whiled away the minutes by playing tunes on the table. That might sound impossible, and to the untrained person might look impossible - but Ben and I are experts. If a tune exists, we can play it on the Picnic table.

Soon enough Jim and Leigh rejoined us - and we realised that it had gone 5pm and that Fish and Chips were now available! We rushed back to our cars, pausing only for Ben and Leigh to point out how much the man sitting in the back of the car next to us with two elderly people (his parents?) looked like me. Apparently, the criteria for being a "Larry Looky-Likey" is as follows:
• Tall
• Glasses
• Bald / Balding
• Signs of disability of some kind

After the laughter eventually stopped, we went and got Fish and Chips. They were very good by all accounts. After finally getting some decent food, we came home.

Overall, Gairloch is rubbish. It's one redeeming feature is its secluded Beach, and it's Fish and Chips (when it opens).

I don't think we will be going there again.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

McBlog - Day 7: If You Do Not Want To Throw Yourself Over The Edge, Look Away Now.

Day 7 of my Scotland holiday arrived right on time - just after the night of day 6.

The morning was a good one - more than a smattering of blue filled the sky, although there were still clouds loitering like youths outside an old folks home.

The plan today was to walk up around the Old Man of Storr, which is not far from the town of Portree on the Isle of Skye. Now the Old Man of Storr is an obelisk of rock that stands separate from a larger outcropping of rock. I don't know if the entire outcropping is called Storr, but that will be what I will be referring to in this Blog. If you think I am wrong and wish to correct me, please leave me a comment on my web page:'

The weather forecast for Portree was looking good according to the weather App on my IPhone - sunshine from 8am right through until 4pm - and as none of us are meteorologists (weathermen) we had no reason to doubt it.

We made packed lunches and set off for Portree, our spirits high. Skye is one of my favourite places; it's rugged, barren landscape has an individual beauty all it's own, and I was looking forward to seeing it from the top of Storr.

However, as we reached Portree it became very evident that the weather App on my IPhone was about as accurate as a myopic, epileptic marksman trying to shoot peanuts off a spinning disco light. The weather in Portree was awful - it was raining and as we drove on towards The Old Man of Storr, the familiar shape that usually dominated the horizon was obscured by low cloud.

Things were not looking good. Still we arrived at the crowded parking area (crowded because presumably lots of other people used the same lying weather App that I have) determined to do this walk. In fairness, the weather was looking a little better - it had stopped raining, and the clouds were brightening up.

We put on our waterproof clothing, picked up our rucksacks and started the long walk towards the top of Storr.
There was Jim, Leigh and Jack (the dog), and Ben, Cain (the son) and me. And, for the first 15 minutes or so of our walk, an odd female who just appeared and tagged along behind. Eventually she moved on past us - and we got on with our walk.

The first 30 minutes or so is the hardest; we climb steeply and soon we found ourselves at the base of the Old Man. It is truly an incredible sight, a huge monolith that looks like it will fall at any moment. There is a large hole on one side that looks like an eye, and thus gives the Old Man his face. By the time we had reached here the weather was fine and warm. So warm in fact that most of us had removed our waterproofs and warmer clothing, and were in t-shirts. I didn't, as I knew it would get colder and windier the higher we got. Plus, I couldn't be bothered.

Now, as a rule most people only come to see the Old Man of Storr and then go home. Not many people know that there is a path that leads up to the top of the Storr - but we did (well Ben, Jim, Leigh, and Cain did - this was only my second trip to The Old Man - in fact I'm fairly sure Jack knew more than me). We climbed (and by climb I mean walk) up round the back of the Storr and continued to ascend. The ascent was more gentle that the first part of our walk, but already we had good views of the surrounding area. Admittedly the views weren't amazing as there were clouds closing in.

We pushed on and finally started the ascent towards the top of the Storr. The landscape was moss and heather with small rocks dotted all over, for a while it seemed that this ascent would go on and on, but then the rocks suddenly disappeared leaving just soft grassy mossy ground underfoot. Soon after we reached the top of the Storr. The views were incredible, inspite of the low cloud. The sea was visible to the left, a great pool of pearl coloured shimmering water, and to the right the rugged landscape - not dissimilar to the grand canyon - spread away before us. The only shame was that we could not see as far as you can when the visibility is good.

There are many things I am good at: making people laugh, being quite clever with words, and taking care of people. However, one thing I am very bad at is dealing with heights. So finding myself almost 2500ft up on top of the Storr on a flat piece of ground with sheer drops on at least two sides probably wasn't that good an idea. I have always had a fear of heights, as did my father. And like my dad, my fear of heights has a strange by product; when ever I am at height or near the edge of something at height, I feel a strong urge to just lean out over the edge until I fall. Of course, I've never yet succumbed to this urge - and I don't intend to.

So we are up on top of the Storr and I am really enjoying the views - Inspite of my terror. I managed to get within six feet of the edge and look down - but I didn't like it. And then Ben suggested I try crawling on my stomach to the edge and looking over. I have always felt that my fear of heights has held me back to some degree in life (which is ironic when you think that part of my fear of heights is a desire to throw myself off from a great height, and being held back is a distinct advantage), and so I am trying to fight back if I can. So I decided to try Ben's suggestion. I laid on my belly and crawled to the edge. There was a gap between two small rocks that I crawled up to and looked down through. The picture below is what my view was - although it does not do it justice. I managed to look down briefly but then I got the sensation that my legs were lifting off the ground and I was tipping over towards the empty air just past the edge. That was too much for me so I scurried backwards and backed away to safety.

My legs were jelly and I only felt safe sitting on the floor. If I was to stand, I would feel that the tiniest blade of grass could trip me up and send me over the edge, plummeting to my death. I remained sitting - but then could only look in sickening horror as Ben and Jim both went close to the edge. Jim then went one further and sat on a rocky outcrop with his legs dangling over the edge!!

I couldn't look, and had to turn away. Jim's wife Leigh was also not a fan of Jim's antics and had to look away too. I honestly don't know how Jim does it - to have that level of fear control is something I can only dream of. I don't even think fear comes into it for him; of course he is adverse to the concept of falling 2500 feet to his death, but he doesn't let that stop him experiencing the best view. I have envy and admiration for him and anyone who can go right to the edge at great height and not feel like I do.

While we were up there, it started to snow - and big flakes too! It wasn't cold enough for them to settle, but there were some serious flakes falling. Snow, in May - who would have thought it.

Eventually we decided to make our way down, as more clouds were closing in. As we made our descent the snow gradually turned to rain and by the time we reached our cars it was raining steadily. We looked back to where we had been, but could not see it as it was shrouded in cloud. We changed out of our waterproofs and came home.

I really have enjoyed today. The walk at The Old Man of Storr is the best walk I have been on - not too difficult, and the reward in terms of view at the end is amazing. I just wished my fear of heights wasn't so great.

Still, I have walked to the top of the Storr - and I'd never done that before today!

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

McBlog Day 6: Lovely, Damp, Walk, Skimming Irregularities, Rocks, and.........What Do You Mean You Don't Have Crisps?!

Day 6 of our Holiday crept into my room and gently pulled back my covers - before smacking me on the backside and shouting 'Get up! It's a beautiful day!!'

And do you know what? It was! The clouds that had blanketed the sky yesterday like a brooding, grey blanket of misery were now broken up by large patches of sunshine. The peaks that commanded each and every view were repeatedly bathed in sunlight as clouds drifted past on the morning breeze. In our lodge, my four friends and I knew this was going to be a good day for walking. However, all was not Lemon Drizzle Cake with us - a Raspberry Trifle shaped cloud still lingered; the cloud of the perpetually damp walking boots!!

Yesterday, was a very wet day footwear wise. After walking through boggy ground in ferocious rain and wind, all of our boots were soaking wet inside and out. All except Jim's - who reportedly managed to keep his footwear bone dry (presumably by making some sort of pact with the devil which involves murdering us all in our sleep and drinking our blood in way of sacrifice) but no-one likes a smart arse, so we'll ignore his boots in this instance. And burn Jim at the stake for Satanism and general not niceness.

So the weather was suitable for walking, we wanted to go walking, but our boots were wet still from the day before. As we sat round the table in the dining room (the only time of the day we actually even go into that room) trying to work out an alternative activity, Leigh suggested that we do one of a few Forest walks that were in the surrounding area. Unfortunately, her suggestion fell on deaf ears. Well, you know how it is - if four blokes go on holiday with one girl, you know she is only there to look pretty and take the edge off the smell; no-one expects her to actually have ideas.

So you can understand why it took a while for her ever increasingly louder ideas to be actually understood by the four testosterone amoebas she was living with. Thankfully, Leigh's brother Ben had learned over many years that sometimes the strange sounds that came out of his Sister's mouth were worth listening to. Eventually, after an intricate exchange of symbols, sign language and a short puppet show, it was agreed that we would go on a forest walk.

We drove the half an hour drive to where the walk started. It was on a National Trust piece of land, on the edge of a loch. Sadly, due to budget cuts, there was no one to properly maintain the Gardens that the walk went through, so in places the Gardens were not looking their best. Dotted along the walk were Fire/Wife Beater stations, where the paddles used to beat out a forest fire (or to beat a wife if she was on fire - or for other reasons) were kept. Now however, no beaters were there. These days, if your wife or forest are on fire, you'll just have to improvise.

The walk was about 1 and a quarter miles long, and wound its way through the forest. There were various plants that definitely looked foreign in origin - some definitely had a healthy tan, and serious facial hair. Seriously though, some plants had massive leaves, and they didn't look like they were natives to this Country. It was interesting to see all these plants etc. and I took quite a few photos. On the second half half of the walk, we found our way down to the edge of the loch. The shore was covered with slate like rocks and outcroppings or layered rock that pushed its way out of the ground at what seemed to be almost 45 degree angles. I can't back that up, as I haven't had a protractor since I was 14 - you'll just have to trust me.

Jim was at the waters edge, laughing as his Satan-endorsed walking boots boiled the water that came within a foot of where he was standing. As he laughed, he skimmed stones across the loch's surface. Thankfully, although his footwear has demonic powers, Jim's arm has the dexterity of a boxing glove wearing baboon trying to get pickled onions out of a jar, and he was only able to get one or two skims out of the stones he was hurling clumsily out into the water. With purely the best intentions, I walked down to the waters edge to show Jim how it was done. Within a few throws - and much to Jim's bemused indignation - I had 'found my arm' and was getting 7, 8, and 9 skims with little or no effort. I could tell Jim was a little frustrated, so after skimming a stone for 10 skims, I dedicated the rest of my time to helping those less fortunate than myself - or Jim, as I like to call him.

With my guidance, Jim started getting more and more skims - 6, 7, 8. But time was getting on, so I decided to retire as undefeated champion. Jim however, was determined to beat me and stayed by the water, skimming stones furiously. I will admit that he was getting close to my record, but he hadn't beaten me. But then, Jim called on an 'Independent Adjudicator' - Cain - to verify his Skims. And surprise surprise, suddenly Jim had got more skims than me. From my viewpoint further up the shore I didn't think that Jim had beaten me - but Cain apparently gave the decision to Jim. What concerned me was the fact that as Jim celebrated, Cain (the Independent Adjudicator) was celebrating too. Something didn't smell right - and it wasn't the dog.

However, being the bigger man, I let Jim have his moment. I also put two rocks into his rucksack when he wasn't looking in the hope that he would have not realised and carry them back to the car, struggling confused under the extra weight. And I would have got away with it too, if it hadn't been for that pesky Ben, who was in on the joke but at the crucial moment couldn't keep a straight face.

We left the walk and drove a little way further down the road to the Kyle of Lochalsh to have a drink and get some provisions. We went to a hotel called Lochalsh Hotel (I think) and sat outside. I went into the hotel with Ben to get the drinks from the lounge bar, while Jim, Leigh, Cain and Jack waited outside. While I was ordering, a old man walked in and asked if the bar sold crisps. The staff politely told him no, but they did do nuts or had a bar menu he could look at. Well, the man reacted as if the staff had told him that his wife looked like a man, and his children could benefit from a paper bag over their faces. He could not believe that there were no crisps available (and said so in a loud and indignant voice), and stormed out. It really was pathetic to see. And funny.

After a brief pit stop in Co-Op to get more provisions (but not what we actually meant to buy) we headed back home - pausing briefly to stop by the roadside to risk life and limb to take a photo of yet another amazing view. Oh, we also stopped by the loch where we were staying to take pictures of the 5 Sisters - a Swedish all girl pole dancing troupe who were staying in the lodge next door. Or they are a range of 5 peaks visible from where we are staying. I forget which.

And now we are home, having our individual selections of dinner. I haven't had mine yet (Soup and a Roll), but will do so as soon as I have finished typing this. Hopefully tomorrow's weather will be as good as today's (which was fabulous all day, in case I haven't mentioned it before), and hopefully our walking boots will be dry.

It has been another great day on this holiday. Tomorrow will continue this theme I am sure.

Monday, 14 May 2012

McBlog Day 5: Mugged Off By The Weather

Day 5 of our Scotland Trip began with a large degree of trepidation. After yesterday's constant deluge, I wouldn't have been surprised if, when I opened the curtains, the view outside resembled Atlantis.

As it turned out, I was surprised. When I drew back the curtain, I saw for certain, that it wasn't raining. It was cloudy and overcast - but it wasn't raining.

We decided to strike while the iron was dry, and embark on our first walk of the holiday. We set off just after 10am and drove a short way to the start of our walk. The moment we pulled up at the side of the road, the weather decided to remind us that it was still there and started to rain. Fortunately, it soon stopped - so like five coiled springs (and their dog) we sprang into action, leapt from our respective cars, got into our walking gear (not that we were sat Naked in the cars - its not that kind of holiday. Or Friendship) and headed off up the trail we were to follow.

The path was generally rocky and stoney, but also very boggy in places. Because of the recent rain everywhere was wet. For a brief moment the clouds brightened - but we knew bad weather was on its way so we pressed on. At first we were very cold; there was a stiff breeze, and until we warned up from the walking we all felt the chill.

The path wound steeply upwards in places and in no time at all we had reached a height that gave us a good view of the surrounding area. The view was amazing - the majestic peaks of the munros and hills that surrounded us with their lower sides covered in a blanket of Scots Pine, which seemed only to grow until a certain height and then gave way to increasing patched of bare rock interspersed with heather. The Loch that sat nestled between these peaks shimmered as the wind drove the waves across them. It was nowhere near as windy as yesterday so the water looked almost smooth.

As we climbed, Jim and Jack (the dog) led the way, followed by Cain (Ben's son), Leigh (Jim's wife and Ben's sister), Ben (Leigh's Brother, Cain's dad, and Jim's Brother in Law), and then me (Ben's best mate, Leigh's friend, Jim's friend, Cain's nothing, and Jack's next meal - given half the chance). I decided to go last and walk behind Ben because he is suffering with an injury and cannot walk as fast as the rest of us, so I didn't want him getting left behind. And, he has a lovely arse that I never tire of looking at.

Actually, that's not true; he isn't injured.

We steadily made our way up the track getting ever higher and higher. We stopped to have a bite to eat, and to admire the scenery. The clouds were drifting slowly by, and there was even some blue sky to be seen in patches. It was truly lovely. We carried on walking and wound our way up the Munro. After about 45 minutes of climbing (well, walking - but you know what I mean) we paused again to admire the view again. It was the same view, from a slightly higher viewpoint, but it was still amazing and well worth a look.

As we stood there oohing at the scenery, it started to rain again. Behind us, the bad weather that had been forecast had arrived, and it rushed over to see us like the one person at a party that you don't want to see - but always sees you first.

It was as if the weather had decided that we had climbed high enough. In a matter of seconds the weather turned from fairly bright and calm and quite mild to freezing cold with severe winds and stinging rain and hail. Poor Jack was definitely not liking it - and to be honest, I wasn't exactly relishing it myself. To continue upwards would be to walk directly into this malevolent weather, so we decided to turn back.

As we started our descent, the wind and rain stung any exposed skin. In hindsight, gold hot pants with the buttocks cut out might not have been the best choice of outfit, but it was too late now for me to change back. Everyone else was feeling the cold too as we made our way back down as quickly and safely as possible.

And then, things got even worse.

As we carried on downwards, the cheeky weather started to improve! With every step it got brighter, the rain eased off, and the wind died down. We couldn't believe it - the weather was playing mind games with us. As our feet squelched in our wet socks within our wet walking boots, the day was once again becoming beautiful. By the time we got back to the cars, it was a lovely day. The lochs were like mirrors, they were so calm. Plus, Jim broke one and got 7 years bad luck. We could not believe how quickly the weather had changed. Each of us had toyed with the idea of going back up now that the weather had improved, but we could see the next bad weather looming round the next Munro. We agreed that coming down had been the right decision. And that I looked awful in gold hot pants with the buttocks cut out.

We returned home, got changed and had a spot of dinner. Tomorrow, we head over to the Isle of Skye to walk up the Old Man of Stor - weather permitting.

Despite our unsuccessful first walk, it has been another fabulous day in Scotland. I love this country, I love being here with my friends, and I love this holiday.

Love it!!!!

(Especially the bit when the fabulous friends I am holiday with read my blog and point out any errors that may/may not exist)

Sunday, 13 May 2012

McBlog Day 4: Wet

Today it rained. Lots

It rained when we got up.

It rained when we drove to Loch Carron and visited the Strathcarron Hotel where we had a very nice bite to eat.

It even started to rain inside the hotel when a leak appeared.

It rained when we drove back to our lodge.

It's raining now.

It's going to rain all day.

And all night.

And tomorrow.

But, I'm not complaining - this is still a spectacularly beautiful place to come.

Oh, and apparently some football team won some sort of prize or something.

Saturday, 12 May 2012

McBlog Day 3: Tillicoultry To Ratagan - Keeping It Real!

Day three of the holiday appeared without prior warning the moment I opened my eyes. The camp bed I was sleeping on was lovely and comfortable - if a little camp. I got dressed and went downstairs to join the rest of my holiday counterparts. After a quick breakfast (Weetabix) we gathered our thoughts and belongings and set off. Our accommodation was in the town of Ratagan, some 3hrs and 45 minutes away. Our destination was fun!

Our journey took us through Glencoe, which has some of the most beautiful scenery I have ever seen. The road we were on wound its way through majestic munroes and mountains - many of which were sprinkled with a dusting of snow. They looked so beautiful, it truly is one of my favourite places in the world. If you've never been, you are missing out - so get out of your houses and get up here!

Come on!! NOW!!

We stopped after 2 hours at Clachaig Inn - a regular visiting place in previous Scotland holidays. Outside in the Car Park there is a stack of empty Barrels proclaiming the many virtues of this establishment: "Clachaig Inn"; "Clachaig Chalets"; "Real People"; "Real Hospitality"; "Real Craic". I thought it would be fun to have my photo taken next to the barrel that said "Real People".

We then went in and had a bite to eat. I had a Venison burger which was ├╝ber delicious. The food is always good there. We had a chat about a few things: how to fake climbing photos, how Ben and Jim survived the infamous Ridge a few years ago, and what the heck the lump of mayonnaise covered sultanas and potato was that was dished up with Ben and Leigh's meals. None of us knew - but I ate it anyway.

Once we had all eaten, we headed back to our cars. On the spur of the moment we decided to have a group photo taken in front of the barrels again. Unfortunately, the group photo didn't turn out quite as well as we hoped, partly because Ben took the photo and so couldn't be in the photo - but mainly because at the crucial moment Jim decided (or maybe didn't decide; maybe it just happened due to some sort of mental 'episode') to pull a face resembling a small child who had wet himself. Amid the cries of "Oh Jim, what have you done?", "Jim, you've ruined that photo!", and "I knew I shouldn't have married you, you childish buffoon!", I had an idea with which to lighten the mood. I playfully suggested that it would be quite funny if someone did a moonie next to the barrel that said "Real Craic".

Well it was only said in jest, but before you could say 'Not the done thing in a public car park at a popular Scottish eating establishment, let alone in front of a 14 year old boy' I had lowered my trouser and boxers, and was bent over next to the barrel while all my friends egged me on. I would just like to say that this sort of thing is not what I usually do, but in my defence I am A) on holiday, B) A spineless fool who is easily controlled by my more dominant friends, and C) in possession of buns of steel after walking almost 600 miles so far this year.

It was very funny, and that is what this holiday is all about. Funny things and having fun, not me getting my arse out all over the shop.

We piled back into our cars and carried on. We still had almost two hours more driving to do, and the weather was clouding over. It rained intermittently as we made out way towards Ratagan, but the scenery remained constantly spectacular.

We made one more stop on the way - at Fort William Morrisons to get some shopping. We only got basic provisions - bread, milk, John Smiths, Chocolate - but enough to make sandwiches etc. and by the way, while I am on Holiday I have rescinded my Chocolate abstinence. I'm not eating loads, but will be partaking on occasion. Anyway, I will be doing more strenuous walking, so will be burning off the chocolate covered calories. But as soon as I'm back to Dorset, I'm back on the Wagon.

Once we had got what we needed, we headed off on our merry way. The road to the isles is very windy (as in winds through the land, not predisposed to high winds) - but that didn't stop some twat in a Transit overtaking on a bend on several occasions. Some people shouldn't drive.

Eventually we arrived at our accommodation - Silver Birch Lodge in Ratagan. It is a very nice property, with great views of the loch. We got settled in and had a bite to eat.

And I am now typing this in the lounge, contemplating having Chocolate Buttons for afters.

Well, I am on holiday!!

Friday, 11 May 2012

McBlog Day 2: Constant Rain, Goggle Boy, The Roll of Mystery, and.....The Death of Conversation

Day Two of this years Scotland Trip started just like day one: In the morning.

After a restful nights sleep, I woke up at just after 7am and went downstairs and sat in the lounge to write my blog. Not this blog, the previous blog. Shortly afterwards, Ben's wife Michelle came downstairs and went into the kitchen - unaware of my presence in the lounge. Eventually, Michelle was alerted to my existence by a loud sneeze that crept upon me while blogging. She strode into the lounge and told me off for sitting in the lounge alone, and said I should sit alone in the downstairs toilet instead. That's not true - but it is funny. In truth she told me to chat to her in the kitchen and as I was always told to be polite when I'm in other people's houses, I accepted.

We had a bit of a natter over a cup of tea, and then were joined by Ben and Cain - who appeared to have woken up with his grumpy face on. He was definitely not a little ray of sunshine - especially when he was asked to walk Alfie, his dog. Ben on the other hand was his normal cheery self - so we all wanted to punch him in the face. After a brief breakfast of toast and coffee, it was time to head off on our journey.

Today we were travelling up to Tillicoultry to stay with Ben's sister Leigh and her husband Jim. Spirits were high as we set off, as the sky was clear of clouds and.....well, blue. The car was loaded, we were all ready and the day was looking good. With a spring in our step (automobilically speaking), we were on our way!

Well, looks can be deceiving. Not 10 minutes into the journey, the blue sky clouded over and the rain came down by the bucketful. And it stayed that way all day. Fat rain, thin rain, fine rain that seemed to defy the windscreen wipers and laugh at their vain attempts to clear it. I tell you, that fine, laughing rain is the worst.

The journey to Tillicoultry takes just over six hours - but the journey flew by because me and Ben we were chatting away about time travel, the afterlife, why animals don't have a concept of humour or sarcasm, and various memories from our 24 year friendship.

In no time at all (or so it seems - we haven't actually mastered time travel) we had reached Scotch corner - so called because the Services there are held together with sellotape - and got out to stretch our legs and have something to eat. The food of choice was Ben's mystery rolls - six rolls with a selection of either cheese, dairylee (fake cheese), or corned beef. We had all previously voiced our preferences and Ben had coded each type of roll with the initial of the person who had requested it - "B" for Ben, "C" for Cain, and "L" for me. The trouble is, from the time this morning when Ben carefully engraved each foil wrapped Roll with these initials, to the time over 4 hours later when it came to hand out these personalised snacks, the letters on each roll had somehow faded, do it was difficult to see who that roll was for. God forbid we tear down the fabric of time and space itself by unwrapping the foil and just looking to see what each roll contained.

Once we had eaten (and had a coffee from Costa - Costa, the only choice) we set off again. It was another three hours or so to Leigh and Jim's house, and it was still raining - joy!

While we were driving we encountered a long forgotten art; the waving child in the car in front. These days parents discourage their children from waving at other drivers in fear that the other driver might be a travelling paedophile, just waiting to ram a car, kill the parents, and abduct the children - as soon as they get a chance.

Fortunately, the parents in this car were sensible - or were oblivious to what their children were doing. What they were also oblivious to apparently, was eyewear fashion for children. The poor child who was waving was wearing what appeared to be swimming goggles. They were glasses, but were obviously purchased from the 'House of Nerd' eyeware warehouse. The child was waving desperately for help as the weight of his 4 inch thick glasses were giving him curvature of the spine. Sadly, we were too busy laughing to stop and help.

The rain kept falling, heavily in places (basically the ground) - but the electronic road signs did not encourage us. The messages that were being displayed were saying things like:

"Heavy Rain Sunday"
"This is nothing - Sunday will be much worse"
"The end of the world is nigh!"
"Swim for it!!"

Inspite of this, we carried on, and eventually reached Tillicoultry. It was great to see Jim and Leigh again, and it was like we had never been away. Sadly the greetings were short lived as we started talking about the I-Pads and iPhones, and then we all got our respective gadget out, and ignored each other.

Still, I'm sure it won't be like this all week........

McBlog - Day 1: Slow, Crow, Where Do I Go???

Finally, the day had arrived - Thursday the 10th of May, the day my 2012 Scotland adventure began!!

The day started out just like any other; after a long period of darkness, it got lighter. Of course it was still raining, which is all part of the Government's "Confuse and Annoy" tactics (they thought of the title after watching videos of operation "Shock and Awe" from the Iraq conflict), where they declare a drought and impose hosepipe bans during the wettest month in living memory.

I had to go to work, as apparently I can't get paid if I don't turn up at least some of the time. My whole working day was spent running around tying up all the loose ends before I went on leave; there was transport to book, pallets to wrap, orders to pick, address labels to print, and generally all the things I could have done in the days leading up to this day if I had pulled my finger out.

Eventually, my working day was complete and my Boss very kindly let me leave half an hour early. With a fair degree of excitement, I jumped in the car, set up my Sat Nav, and was away!!

The first part of my journey - from Dorset to the M25 - went without a hitch. At first my car felt a little sluggish, and I wondered if it was alright. Then I remembered that I had all my holiday gear in the boot which added a fair bit of weight to the car, and so felt much more happy about the situation - whilst punching myself in the face for being stupid. It was still raining, but only on the outside of the car. I drove past the sign for Fleet Services, which is my usual pit stop on my journey to Essex, and felt my stomach rumble in disappointment. But I had no time for regrets, I was on a mission!

Or I was, until I reached the M25. I got there are just after 6pm and caught the height of rush hour. It was so slow going - the speed limit signs said '40', but everyone was trickling along at under 5 miles per hour. I saw a crow flitting from car to car, presumably looking to pick at the corpses of drivers who had died from old age whilst waiting to make any decent headway on this carousel of depression. And then I saw a man driving his Renault Clio with a laptop open on his lap (the clue is in the name kids), using it while he drove! I had to put down my Nintendo Ds in order to rub my eyes in disbelief!

After an age, I eventually got off the M25 and my car rediscovered gears 2,3,4, and 5. I used this new freedom of speed to test the capabilities of my car. Although not good for fuel economy, at one stage I got 103 mph on the clock - but my car wasn't happy, rattling like a rattlesnake shaking a rattle. This speed burst was short lived as I reigned in my Stirling Moss impression (ask your parents, you teenagers reading this), and a more acceptable speed was maintained.

I stopped at Toddington Services, which was a relief because my legs were aching quite a bit. But it is amazing how well a Burger King and a large Coca Cola (other fast foods and beverages are available) can revive me. After scroffing that lot, I was ready to complete my journey. I only had about 85 miles to go, so it wouldn't take me too long.

Or so I thought.

There I was, merrily driving along, when all of a sudden my sat nav didn't know where I was. I could tell that the road I was driving on was brand new, and perhaps that was the problem because my Sat Nav was seriously confused. At one point the audible instructions were as follows:
"In 300 yards, turn left"
"Turn around"
"Turn right"
"Okay, I give up - where are we?"

In the end, I did find my way back to civilisation - but after a 30 minute, many mile diversion.

And eventually I arrived at my destination - the home of my best mate, and his lovely wife - and their Son (he's alright). After a long day, and a long journey (admittedly made longer by my unplanned detour) it was good to be with friends.

And I'm writing this on the following morning, as I have breakfast before we set off. Today we drive to Tillicoultry to see two more fabulous friends who are joining us on this Scotland Trip.

And the sun is shining. Hurrah!!!!