Friday, September 28

I'm still alive :)

Just a quick update to apologise for not uploading the last couple of day's pictures, it will get done either over the weekend or on Monday. I have had a few things on my plate recently, not least a very annoying PC rebuild, necessitated by a 2p piece of plastic breaking (there's a blog post in itself there) and an "Italian electrics" episode about the Maserati which involves cooling fans refusing to switch off, a flat battery, a jump start at 11pm in Swindon last Sunday night (cheers to the Taylor brothers for assisting me there!) and a visit to Wembley tomorrow to hopefully get it fixed.

Tuesday, September 18

Day 8 - Liverpool to Home

The final day on this leg of the trip was a long one, heading initially from Liverpool around Manchester and back into the Peak District via Glossop. Heading over the Snake Pass, we found another dramatic road, which came out at the Ladybower Reservior.

From there we went south to the A623 and back via Chapel en le Frith to Whaley Bridge, the A5004 to Buxton and then the A6 to Bakewell. With the time as it was and neither of us wanting to hit the Luton around the rush hour, we decided to spend a couple of hours at Chatsworth, once we had avoided the cows.

The grounds are really beautiful;

Inside the house was just as amazing;

They were hosting a big sculpture exhibition while we were there;

But the best sculptures, in my view, were in the house's Sculpture Gallery - now I'm generally a phillistine but there were some absolutely amazing pieces in here.

From there we headed home, though we did have time for a completely crap meal at the Wetherspoons at Xscape in Milton Keynes. Not only can they not serve food that's warm, they manage to get pasta wrong. I mean, even I can cook pasta and not end up with it rock hard and stuck together like superglue. I didn't expect gormet, but it seems that edible was too much for them and after sending it back for the third time I just gave up.

However, that was no doubting that this has actually been a thoroughly enjoyable roadtrip.

Day 7 - Whitehaven to Liverpool

What a washout. We'd managed to steer clear of the rain for the last couple of days, keeping in front of it from Inverness to Glasgow, and chasing it from Glasgow to the Lakes, but today we found it, and it paid us in full. Basically this meant that we were really struggling driving around the small roads in the lakes, knowing full well that there were some great vistas hidden out there somewhere but unable to actually see or appreciate them, and both of us were having to pay so much attention to the road that we couldn't really even appreciate the little we actually could see.

After a difficult trip from Whitehaven through Cleaton Moor, Lamplugh, Loweswater, Buttermere and Borrowdale, past Derwent Water and into Keswick, we dived out of the car and into a local pub for some lunch and to re-evaluate the rest of the day. We'd hoped to head to Hexham to try the A686 again but in these conditions it was completely out of the question, and as I'm sure you can imagine the cameras stayed firmly in the car most of the day.

Eventually we drove north out of Keswick, past Bassenthwaite and onto the A595 into Carlisle. From there it was a matter of negotiating miles and miles of rooster-tails along the M6 until the weather finally eased around Preston way. We dived off the M6 at Preston due to congestion and took the A59 into Liverpool, through Ormskirk and Aintree.

The hotel was handily situated just upstream along the Mersey from Albert Dock, and while the rooms were basic with a capital "B" and there was no WiFi access, we spent the evening in the Hotel bar and rued a missed opportunity of a day.

Day 6 - Glasgow to Whitehaven

We chose to break day 6 in Whitehaven to give us some time in the Lakes the following day before heading to Liverpool. This wasn't going to work out, but we weren't to realise at this point. We got off to a late start in Glasgow, not getting away until nearly 1pm, which was a bit of a problem. After a brief stop for lunch in Dean Castle Country Park in Kilmarnock, the drive towards Prestwick was fairly uneventful. We came off the coast road onto the A713 to Dalmellington, which was a pleasant enough road.

After taking the B741 to New Cumnock we joined the A76 and then the A75 at Dumfries which is a pretty boring stretch down to Gretna Green.

One thing we did notice on arriving in Cumbria was the change in the roads. More specifically, that the roads in England don't give you places to stop and admire the wonderful countryside. We do have some stunning countryside in England, too, but it's far more difficult in some counties to actually stop and admire it.

From Carlisle we wandered east towards Brampton and then down towards Gilderdale Forest in the North Pennines, along the A689. We did manage to stop on Alston Moor and take some snaps of the views:

More suicidal sheep here too:

This was an entertaining road with climbs and twists and turns aplenty through the old lead mining areas, and we headed back up to Hexham via the B6295 for what we thought would be more of the same on the A686 down to Penrith. Well, the A686 is something else. I can honestly say that it could have got pretty hairy if I had been driving the Bora - it was a very challenging road in the fading light and I was glad to be in the Maserati, where I was driving well below the car's limits. A number of times we hit unexpected hairpin bends and corners that tightened significantly half way around. There were also a number of sharp bends just after crests which were "interesting".

We stopped for food at an excellent italian restaurant called Villa Bianca in Penrith and then headed on through the dark to arrive at Whitehaven about 11:30pm.

Day 5 - Inverness to Glasgow

Day 5 was a monster day of driving. We left Inverness and headed southwest along Loch Ness.

We managed to get a drive-by of one of the tourist boats on the way there, and caught it again a bit further along when we were alongside the Loch itself.

We managed to get some pictures of the ruins of Castle Urquhart with the Loch in the background, while the weather held out. Unfortunately, no sight of Nessie :(

We continued along the A82 around Loch Oich.

Further southwest we passed around the south of Loch Lochy.

Moving on we went through Fort William and past Loch Linnhe. Time for a diversion, which we took along the B863 around Loch Leven - yet another fantastic road. We took a break for some sandwiches at Kinlochleven.

From there we came back to Glencoe to rejoin the A82. More ski areas with no snow in sight, but you can easily imagine this in the depth of winter.

This sign gets the "No-s***, Sherlock" award for stating the bleedin' obvious:

Due to a slight mis-reading of the map, we decided to take the B8074 from Bridge of Orchy along Glen Orchy to Inverlochy. I say "slight mis-reading", it was more a case of expecting it to be of a B-road standard, instead of a single track with passing places, but we were rewarded for tiptoeing along it with some stunning scenery.

From Inverlochy we went west and then took the A819 Glen Aray road, again a great drive, to Inverary. This little village was a gem - perched on the banks of Loch Shira, the immaculate houses were really photogenic, and we took the opportunity to grab a tea and cake from the coffee shop on the boat, Arctic Penguin.

From Inverary we headed east on the A83 past Inverary Castle (which I managed to do a drive-by on as we crossed the bridge over the river).

The A83 then took us around Loch Fyne, via Cairndow, to Loch Long and the A815. From here the target was Garelochhead and the A817 Glen Fruin road to Loch Lomond. All I can say about this road is WOW - to the point where we turned round and drove it again in the other direction. It's not about hairpin bends, but it's about 7 miles of wide, smooth tarmac taking sweeping turns through the valleys and climbs along Glen Fruin. If you're ever anywhere near this part of Scotland it would be a crime not to drive it and enjoy it.

We then took a leisurely pootle down the Gare Loch:

Then along the Firth of Clyde into Glasgow to meet up with Beverley; a long but thoroughly rewarding day of driving with some stunning views along the Lochs to boot.

Thursday, September 13

Day 4 - Edinburgh to Inverness

Today was all about driving. Lots of it, in fact, and if we hadn't left Edinburgh late (blame editing the pics for the blog this morning instead of last night for that) we could have stopped for a lot more photos today.

We did spend about 30 minutes or so trying to fight our way through the road system in central Edinburgh to start with; basically it's just like London but without road signs. Or, the road signs are either right at the junction you wanted giving you no warning to get in lane, or they are 400 yards before the junction (and before the previous two junctions as well just to confuse you). Ah well, you can't have everything I guess, the city itself really is beautiful.

We left Edinburgh heading north and shortly crossed the Forth Road Bridge:

Of course that is completely overshadowed by the original Forth Bridge, which looks like it's about to get yet another coat of paint :)

Back on the motorway, we headed to Perth where we stopped for lunch, though looking back on the cameras it seems we didn't take any pictures :-(

From Perth, we headed north on the A93 to Blairgowrie, then East to Alyth. The intention was to join the B952, B954 then B951 and bimble north on the back roads, but we went wrong somewhere and ended up on an unclassified road. It looks pretty straight on the map but I'm fairly certain no map maker has ever been down it and just guessed it went straight, because we never got 200 metres without a bend on a hill of some sort. It was single track most of the way and we kept meeting
construction traffic for a wind farm they were building locally.

However, there were a couple of very picturesque spots on this road:

This second stream was in Milton, just before we rejoined the A93:

Once we rejoined the A93 we headed north along Glen Shee:

We passed through the Glenshee Ski Area, not a flake of snow in sight, though they could perhaps have occupied themselves by sweeping all the gravel off the road instead of just putting up 20mph signs for 3 miles along one of the best driving roads I've ever seen :(

On we went to Braemar, at which point we swapped over, and Mark drove. Cue me saying "What's that squeaking?" "Don't know, don't think it's us" then twenty seconds later he takes the handbrake off. We're doing 40 by now. Anyway, we followed the A93 for some distance along the River Dee, turning off just before Loch Kinord onto the B9199 and then the A97 and A944 through Strathdon and onto the A939 towards Corgarff.

Just after leaving Corgarff, we found a really nice hotel (whose name we'll have to look up and confirm) within sight of Corgarff Castle. Corgarff is really odd, as it's whitewashed and looks like a big house with a wall round it instead of a castle, but it's undeniably charming in the middle of nowhere. Unfortunately, again, the cameras stayed in the back of the car and at the back of our minds and on we drove.

We headed on along A939 through the Lecht Ski area and Tomintoul, stopping just after Tomintoul for another photo opportunity:

Onwards then through Grantown-on-Spay and along the A939 all the way to Nairn on the banks of the Moray Firth, and then down the A96 to Inverness itself.

I have to say that the A93, and probably the A939, should be on anyone's list of all-time great roads. It's a constant challenge, with unbelievable scenery around (though you'll not have much time to concentrate on both at the same time). However, you can't account for the locals, and we were overtaken (while doing 60mph each time) by various vehicles ranging from Porsches, a Land Cruiser, a 1.2 litre Corsa and most incredibly, a DHL van. It was just unbelievable the speed they are prepared to drive on these roads, and even with the complete confidence I have in the car there's no way I was going to keep up with them.

All in all it was a great day of driving and I'm almost tempted to come back and do the whole thing all over again :)