A trip to Scotland – 27th March to 7th April

The last time we had seen Paul’s Mum and Stepdad was before lockdown and a trip was long overdue. They live a long way North and so we decided to make getting there part of our vacation. With the car fully laden, we set off late morning for our first waypoint – the pretty spa town of Harrogate. It was Paul’s first visit but I had visited a couple of years back when singing in a competition.

We arrived at around 14:15 at the rather lovely Hotel du Vin, where we had booked a special room that had direct access onto the street – perfect for dog-walking late at night and early morning. We could park the car right outside the room too, which was handy. We were really chuffed with the room – complete with a dog bed each and a goody bag each, plus bowls for their food for the boys it could not have been bettered. The boys soon settled in.

They are good travellers, having done quite a few long haul trips with us – including one of around 1500 miles each way, to a place called Castillo de Banos in Southern Spain, where we spent the winter before Old Nick was launched. And before Covid……

Our epic road trip of Jan 2019

They are crate trained and thus happy wherever we go, as we always take their crates with us and they travel in them, too.

Once we had got settled, we went for a walk. Harrogate is a lovely green town with plenty of parkland and we had a lovely walk in the early spring sunshine. We popped into the renowned Betty’s Tea Rooms and bought a few goodies, including Fat Rascals – their famous tea-time bake, which is a delicious sort of cross between a rock cake and a scone..Sadly, we could not eat there as we had the dogs with us. A shame as there was, unusually, no queue.

Fat Rascals

We decided to eat at the Hotel that evening , as the bar menu looked good and we could also take the boys with us. Being on holiday called for a pre-dinner cocktail and we had a very nice meal, before returning to the room to relax. We had a good night’s sleep and hit the road again, bound for the border. We’d highly recommend a Hotel du Vin (there are 19 of them). They are particularly dog friendly and we all thoroughly enjoyed our stay.

Our destination was Falkirk but we had a few points to stop at before we arrived there. The first was at the Angel of the North, the immense sculpture by Anthony Gormley, completed in 1998. It was built on the site of a former colliery pit-head baths in Gateshead. Gormey says this of it

“The hilltop site is important and has the feeling of being a megalithic mound. When you think of the mining that was done underneath the site, there is a poetic resonance. Men worked beneath the surface in the dark. Now in the light, there is a celebration of this industry. The face will not have individual features. The effect of the piece is in the alertness, the awareness of space and the gesture of the wings – they are not flat, they’re about 3.5 degrees forward and give a sense of embrace. The most important thing is that this is a collaborative venture. We are evolving a collective work from the firms of the North East and the best engineers in the world.” 

It’s certainly an impressive piece and we were glad we had finally seen it “in the flesh”. But we had more to see so we jumped back in the car, passed through the Tyne Tunnel, and off towards the coast.

A couple of years back, we had avidly watched a series called “The Last Kingdom” –  based on Bernard Cornwell‘s The Saxon Stories series and featuring one “Uhtred of Bebbanburg” – catchphrase “Destiny is all”. With Uhtred played by a rather handsome German actor called Alexander Dreymon, the series chronicles that particularly turbulent period of British history and is well worth a watch. Bebbanburg is now known as Bamburgh and we have long wanted to see it.

We were not disappointed – its position overlooking the North Sea coast looks entirely unassailable and it packs a real wow. We stopped to give the boys a run on the nearby dunes before approaching. It is impressive both from a distance and up close and is still lived in by the Armstrong family, who have owned the castle since 1894. We did not have time to make a proper visit but it made another good pause on our ever Northwards journey. And we even got an ice-cream!

Fortified by our ice cream and comfy after a visit to some unusually nicely kept public loos, we pressed on, crossing the border at around !5:00. There were roadworks on our approach to our hotel in Falkirk and the road leading to it was riddled with potholes and had a generally dilapidated air. Not a great first impression at all! Fortunately, the hotel had been undergoing a refurbishment programme and we were the very first occupiers of a newly updated room. It smelt very new indeed and rather made up for the bad “oh my goodness, what have we done” feelings we had experienced on arrival.

As we’d arrived late afternoon, we decided to pop and see one of Falkirk’s biggest attractions – The Kelpies. We’d seen them in photos and on film but nothing prepares you for their sheer magnitude. They are immense and very beautiful. They were based on a pair of Clydesdale heavy horses called Duke and Baron, sculpted by Andy Scott and meant to represent “the lineage of the heavy horse of Scottish industry and economy, pulling the wagons, ploughs, barges, and coal-ships that shaped the geographical layout of the Falkirk area”.

They are located on a site adjacent to the Forth and Clyde canal – near lock 3. Like the Angel Of the North. photos definitely do not do them justice but that didn’t stop us taking a gazillion shots. They are the crowning glory of a multi-million Lottery funded redevelopment project called Helix Park, which also created a performance area, facilities for watersports, all surrounded by play areas and pathways. And very nicely done it is and the car parks created are a magnet for camper vans/motor homes, which are charged £12.50 for an overnight stay.

I had found a dog-friendly place (which I shall not name) to eat that evening, which looked pretty reasonable, based on its reviews.Suffice to say it will not be getting a good review on Trip Advisor from me. Far from it! Looking at it charitably, it may just have been an “off night” – but judging by the quality of the ingredients, I suspect not. My pork sausages barely deserved the name – perhaps they had once been shown a picture of a pig? Just awful. I returned mine barely touched.

The next day was Good Friday and we were booked for the 10:40 excursion on the Falkirk Wheel. We checked out and arrived in time to eat a Full Scottish – earning the name by the inclusion of the following ingredients – Lorne sausage (also known as square sausage or slice), black pudding, fruit pudding, haggis, baked beans, fried mushrooms and tomatoes, tattie scones and fried eggs, And toast. This more than made up for the night before’s empty stomach and the boys happily helped out when it became too much!

The Falkirk Wheel then – what an amazing construction! And dog-friendly! The Wheel is unique and lifts boats from the Forth and Clyde canal (which runs East from the Forth near Falkirk to the Clyde at Glasgow) to the Union Canal (Falkirk to Edinburgh, thus forming a lowland link between the major ports on the East and West coasts.

It opened in 2002 and was part of the Millennium Link Project, which restored the two canals, replacing a flight of locks with the Wheel. The Project was headed by a consortium of organisations – the Millennium Commission, European Regional Development Fund, Scottish Enterprise Network, seven local authorities, British Waterways and The Waterways Trust Scotland.

And thank goodness they went for it. No visit to the area is complete without calling in – particularly if you’re a boater. The control system for the Wheel has just been upgraded and we were on the very first trip of 2024. The upgrade means that the wheel now completes its cycle 10% faster. One fact we learnt on the trip was that one rotation uses the same power it would take to boil eight kettles! Or for the more technically minded 1.5 KWhours.

The trip boat – one of a pair – takes you up to the top, along a short length of canal, through a short and beautifully-lit tunnel before turning round and retracing the passage back down to the bottom. The flight of 11 locks the wheel replaced took a good few hours to work through but the wheel does it in minutes. Imagine what the boaters of yesteryear would make of it!

The trip commences with a safety briefing from the friendly and knowledgeable crew and then the recorded commentary takes over. It’s an interesting narration, clear and easily understandable by all ages. Interestingly, the tunnel takes you under the Antonine Wall, Hadrian’s Wall’s lesser known cousin. The Wall was built 20 years later than Hadrian’s and was intended to supercede it. It was abandoned 8 years after completion.

We were lucky that the sun came out for our trip, which was a joy from start to finish. We highly commend to anyone who has not yet been. From the Wheel itself to the delightful cafe and gift shop, it’s a great addition to Scotland’s list of “must visit” attractions. Well done Scottish Canals.

Paul particularly wanted to go across the Forth Road bridge on the way to Perth, which meant doubling back to Queensferry and involved about an hour sitting in traffic! But it was probably worth the wait, she said, grudgingly! We were staying overnight with friends Steve and Maria, who had recently moved up to Perth from Portsmouth, to support Steve’s parents. We were really looking forward to seeing them and had such a great time catching up and they very kindly gave up their bed for us. Greater love hath no man eh?

We left them on Easter Saturday morning after a quick visit to see Steve’s Mum Dot – looking very sprightly after her hip operation. We forgot to take a pic, sadly. As a parting gift, the boys left a fine layer of border terrier over their red carpet! Sorry guys! And thanks for having us. We were very nicely had.

We chose the coastal route to our final destination on the Moray coast, calling in at Arbroath to pick up some Arbroath Smokies from a delightful purveyor of fish – E&O Fish. I’d have felt a bit of a nana taking a pic in the shop, but it had a stunning array of seafood and fish. Great trays of dressed crab, chunks of the freshest looking salmon, mussels, lobsters, langoustines,etc. etc. It was a delight for the eyes.

We stopped for lunch (Greggs – we’re that classy!) in Montrose. Easter Saturday afternoon and it was all kicking off! Huge police presence outside one of the pubs and gaggles of disconsolate lads and men. We gave them a wide berth, grabbed our pies and journeyed on.

We arrived at Portknockie – a small fishing port not far from Cullen – which is famous for its lovely soup. The soup is called Cullen Skink and is concocted from Smoked Haddock, potatoes and onions. And before you ask “Skink” is the Scottish term for a knuckle, shin, or hock of beef, so most soups made of these parts were called skink.

Portknockie is famous for Bow Fiddle Rock – which folk from far and wide come to marvel at. It is supposed (And indeed does!) to look like an elephant drinking water. The Knockie part of the name is from the Gaelic “Chnocaidh” or hilly port. It featured recently in the final episode of Season 2 of BBC’s “The Traitors“. Around 12′ 52” in, if you’d like to check on IPLayer.

We were staying in Tradewinds, in Gordon Street, one of the many cute cottages that make up the village, not far from where Paul’s Mum and Stepdad now live. They moved up here from Portchester about 16 years ago.


Tradewinds was a delight. Cosy and amazingly well equipped. The owners Carl and his partner (whose name sadly escapes me) had genuinely thought of everything to make your stay like a home from home, and we absolutely loved it. Fab shower! And the boys loved it too, even though they had to sleep downstairs in their crates. They also enjoyed their daily walks with Gidget, Paul’s Mum’s dog – a papillon with a big personality. You can rent the cottage from various sites including this one, which includes a gallery of internal pics. Have a look!

We spent a lovely 5 days catching up and gadding about with Paul’s Mum and Tony, his stepdad, both former members of the Portchester Players. We went to Elgin for lunch on Easter Sunday, dodging pudding and calling in at the amazing ice-cream parlour in Fochabers on the way back home. Trade was so brisk we had to queue along the street. But well worth the queue. It was a beautiful sunny day – sadly the only one of our stay!

Chester – our little Easter Bunny

Easter Monday saw us visiting the seaside town of Nairn – a largely dry but grey and blustery day. We even ventured onto the beach – distinctly bracing – but Gidget and the boys enjoyed racing round. The following day, as Paul was working Anne and I went to a large Garden Centre- Christies in Fochabers and then I cooked dinner for them that evening – Enchildas.

Wednesday was a particularly rubbishy day – hurling down with rain and blowing an absolute hooley! Paul had to visit a long-standing customer in Macduff Echomaster Marine – a UK distributor, and supplier, of Marine Electronics for fishing, commercial and leisure customers. Anne and I had decided to go along for the ride, imagining perhaps a stroll round the town and maybe a cuppa and cake? We spent the whole time that Paul was with his customer in the car, while the elements hurled themselves at us! We did get a quick cuppa and some delish lemon sponge though, so not all bad.

We were booked into the Cullen Bay Hotel for dinner that evening. It is in a fab spot overlooking the bay, with amazing views – even in bad weather. Actually, I find stormy seas quite exhilarating – provided I’m not boating. I remember one stormy night out in a dinghy, bound for Marchwood. We never made it and should probably not have even ventured out. I arrived home at around 5 am, every square inch of me wet, to find that my parents had not slept a wink all night, fearing me drowned. I’d had an absolute blast and had not been at all afraid until the skipper – Brian by name – admitted that he was pretty scared and was turning for home! Ah the follies of youth eh?

I had noticed, earlier in the week, that the cottage next door to Tradewinds was up for sale and could not resist having a peek. I was incredulous when I saw the price. A three bed house for offers over £120k! No garden, it’s fair to say, but you would not get a 1- bed flat in Fareham for that! Amazing.

I spent our final full day doing some admin for Electrika, issuing tickets, sorting out exhibitor passes etc etc and packing ready for the off on Friday morning. Our time there had passed in a flash but we had one last meal together at the Victoria Hotel in Portknockie and this time were joined by Paul’s Uncle John and Aunty Celia, who also live in the village. We had a lovely, laughter filled evening, with tasty food, and said our final farewells. Anne and Tony were off to Elgin for a hospital appointment for Tony early the next day. Paul had one last walk with his Mum and Gidget – now firmly established as the leader of the gang! And then we were off too. Bound for Pitlochry. With snow forecast!

We planned to head to Fochabers and thence into the Cairngorms National Park, peppered with town names. each of which you’d see on a good bar’s whisky shelves! We stopped for a comfort break in Aviemore and arrived in Pitlochry about 3ish. We’d had some snow on the way but nothing too bothersome.

We were staying at Mackay’s Hotel in the centre of town. It was very handy, with a car park at the rear. Our room was pretty tiny – smaller than our bedroom at our flat in Fareham, but cosy and with everything you need for a nice stay – although the TV was a tad small! Actually not much bigger than an Ipad!

Once settled, we popped out in search of a cuppa and found Hettie’s Teas. A delightful place with their own and varied blends of teas. Paul went conventional but I chose “Come on Raspberry Baby” – a blend of Hibiscus, Apple Pieces, Elderberries, Raspberry Leaves, Freeze Dried Raspberries, Blackberries, Raspberry Pieces, Raspberry and Blackberry Leaves. And it was fab! I loved it. I bought some and an infuser to take home I liked it so much!

We dined at the hotel, and then went back to the room. I had a load of ticket orders to do for Electrika which kept me busy most of the evening. Paul browsed the tele. It was only about an hour and a half to Glasgow – our next planned stop. We began to wonder if that was a bit of a waste of a day and decided to cancel our hotel room there – once we’d found another.

I’m quite surprised at the range of hotel groups that are dog-friendly – just for the record and for other dog-owners who might be reading this, Travel Lodge, Day’s Inn, Holiday Inn Express, Ibis, Novotel and the Hotel du Vin Group and we have used most of them. You usually have to pay a little extra, but it’s worth it if you can take the mutt along. But I digress – we found and booked a “lake view ” room at a Day’s Inn, overlooking KiIlington Lake – not far from Kendal and promptly cancelled our Glasgow hotel. We had a new plan!.

The hotel breakfast was most acceptable and properly set us up for the day. We headed out towards Glasgow, deciding to give the city the once-over anyway, on our way South. As we approached, we saw signs for the Glasgow LEZ (Low Emissions Zone). I quickly Googled to see what was involved and it transpired that our car – being a touch elderly – was not actually permitted to drive in the City! At all! So I’m not quite sure how we would have got to our hotel anyway? Lucky swerve! But it does seem a bit odd for the many City centre hotels? Maybe I got it wrong but it was all academic.

We thus pressed on towards England and the Lake District – Kendal is at the Southern edge. It was very windy – Storm Kathleen being the culprit. The Lowland scenery was beautiful and it was a pleasant drive with no delays. The hotel was at one of the services on the M6 – between Junctions 36 and 37. Check-in was swift and we were soon ensconced in our lake view room. The room was clean but a bit “tired”. But the view was beautiful and the TV was back to normal proportions!

After a quiet night, we set off in rain and the remainder of the drive was changeable. We arrived back at the boat about midday and spent the rest of the day unpacking and re-packing for our trip down to Fareham on Thursday. We are not ones to let the grass grow under our feet! A great trip and really glad we went, but it was good to be back aboard.

We have a busy couple of weeks before we leave for the summer – a trip down to Fareham, a trip up to London to see a show and family and then Electrika! All go but would we have it any other way? Of course not – we’d have nothing to moan about!

4 Replies to “Caledonia”

    1. They are good boys – largely. Yes. I like to be busy but sometimes it all piles up a bit. Looking forward to getting away for the summer. If we have one! 😂

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