Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Thursday and Friday 11-12th August: The last leg - Loch Linhe to Thirsk via Glencoe, Thirsk to Winchester

It's now 23rd August – I’m writing from the Maples in Itchen Stoke, and conscious that I didn’t complete the account of the ‘shakedown’ leg of the trip. So here goes….
We had planned to get away early on Thursday, with a breakfast stop in Glencoe and a possible mountain bike ride down from the top of the chairlift. However…
It rained steadily on Wednesday evening – taking the awning down didn’t look like much fun, so I left it until the morning. After a slower than planned start we emerged to a light breeze and a break in the rain – at least this meant that the awning came down just damp, not dripping wet. We got away around 10.00, not bad given the conditions, and headed off towards Glencoe and a first stop at the Visitor Centre about half an hour away. Here we learned a little of the infamous 1692 Campbell massacre of the MacDonalds – I won’t attempt to record the events here as there’s plenty available elsewhere, but as you’ll see from the pictures below, little has changed to soften the imposing and inhospitable landscape….except perhaps the soft southerners in the picture!

Glencoe, Edwardian painting of the site of the infamous 1692 massacre (Wikipedia)….and 2011 picture of the fearless Campbells!

And then we set off properly, just as the wind began to increase in intensity. And continue to increase. Fortunately it was a tail wind, which practically blew us up the mountain pass, but every time we rounded a bend and presented ourselves beam-on to the wind the whole outfit lurched uncomfortably!
We drove on down the mountain towards Loch Lomond, very picturesque in the now constant soft rain, along a surprisingly narrow and winding road – we actually caught up with a coach!
Gradually the roads straightened, became broader, and more densely populated with cars, while the weather became wetter as we drove south past Glasgow and Gretna and eventually into Cumbria in England. Some while later we peeled-off east along the A66 towards Yorkshire. 
We sailed past the petrol station confident that we’d fill up at the next one. But as we began the inexorable grind up across the Penines and the rain and wind redoubled their efforts to blow us off track, our confidence about finding the next filling station in time began to evaporate at pretty much the same rate as the remaining fuel in the tank. It must have seemed a great idea to keep free from the unpleastness of a filling station a stretch of road through such beautiful country as the Yorkshire Dales….but that wouldn’t seem so clever with a five mile tailback stretching behind an over laden Volvo and caravan and a disgruntled family to spoil the un-spoilt vistas!
We pressed on, crawling up the hills and freewheeling down to preserve the last dregs of fuel…Scotch Corner was getting closer, but close enough? Indeed….and just 20 miles to our overnight stop in Thirsk.
We made camp at the caravan site on Thirsk racecourse, and were met by Aunt Jane, Frances’ aunt. Our now slick parking up routine enabled us to head straight off for a lovely dinner in a nearby pub (http://www.thecarpentersarmsfelixkirk.com/ - an absolutely lovely pub with terrific food) for dinner and a much-needed fortifying ale.
With no awning to dismantle, getting away on Friday was swift and painless – we were on the road south by 9.00am, heading past Dishforth where Diana was born. And as we headed south, we left behind the distinctly autumnal winds and rain of the north, exchanging it for the leaden humidity of an English summer’s afternoon.
We headed straight for Tilshurst who supplied the caravan for a damage assessment and quote, and then home to The Maples to begin the task of unpacking and, of course, packing!
So a well needed shakedown leg of our tour. We learned much, some of it rather more abruptly than planned. We travelled well over 1,000 miles using about £500 of petrol, developed routines for departure and arrival, and for the day-to-day running of the camp. And despite the weather and some pretty trying circumstances, we had a good time – saw the beautiful and spectacular heart of Britain went walking, fishing, sailing, biking, beaching, climbing, swimming and even skinny-dipping! Not a bad start.
A few days later we had a team meeting to discuss our learning’s and how they should influence our plans ahead. We agreed that we shouldn’t be dissuaded by our experience – but that too much distance meant too much driving – boring for the kids, expensive, and hard work for driver and navigator.  So we agreed to take a ferry to Esbjerg in Denmark to start our trip – and not to attempt to drive through Finland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania but to head back south from Sweden and Norway through Denmark again to Germany (the prospect of sitting by the roadside waiting for, or in the hands of a local mechanic without the language skills between us to communicate what help we needed was just too daunting (believe me, those language barriers aren’t confined to the Baltic States…try getting a meaningful dialogue going with a roadside mechanic in Fort William next time you’re there!).
And we decided to lighten our load – no awning extension (we don’t need it)….and no bikes. That’s a huge decision, as it means we’re reliant on the car, and the kids won’t have the bikes to explore campsites. We’ll take their scooters instead which have been great fun for exploring cities we’ve visited. But it means a big weight saving and I hope will improve economy and performance as wind resistance is reduced.
We also discussed and agreed some basic family rules about how we’ll conduct ourselves on the next legs of the trip.
We’ve spent the time since our return getting ready to leave The Maples. Frances, George and Charlie spent a few days in Cornwall with Claire, the kid’s Family Day Care carer from Sydney (she’s from Cornwall) while I spent a couple of days in London and then at Lawn Cottage with Ma and Pa, David and Stella. Ma seemed much improved over the couple of weeks since we’d visited with the caravan en-route to Scotland, although unfortunately had a nasty fall the day after I’d returned home.  Hopefully she’ll be back home and recovering again soon.
The packers have now descended upon us to begin the enormous task of wrapping and packing everything before shipping it off to Australia. It’s an uncomfortable feeling – rather like being burgled while you watch. They finish towards the end of this week, all being well. We’ve had a useful few days ‘de-cluttering’ which has involved several trips to the tip, a three-day bonfire, and many agonizing decisions…keep it?, dump it?, no, burn it!
We’ve booked our ferry from Harwich to Esbjerg for Wed 31st August, and returning from Caen in France to Portsmouth on 6th November. We’ll then aim to fly Sydney via Hong Kong, departing Wed 16th November (to be confirmed).
But our next trip is this weekend, to the Cotswolds with the McQueens, Murphys and others. Then a final hand over of the house on Tuesday 30th before departing for Denmark on Wednesday morning. Next installment when we’ve arrived!


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