Part 8 Dundee, Fife and Glasgow east!

Dundee is the 4th largest city in Scotland, and was always known for the 3 J’s.. Jam, Jute and Journalism. It has recently undergone a huge regeneration of it’s waterfront, culminating in the building of the striking V&A Scotland museum which opened last year.

Our main reason for visiting was to see Captain Scott’s Antarctic exploration ship the Discovery, which was built here and is now on display in it’s home port.

There is a wonderful exhibition about the construction and equipping of the ship, and the expedition itself. The hull was built of 5 layers of different timbers, filled the void with salt to absorb water, and had bridging struts to prevent crushing by pack ice. Provisions included 45 sheep.. many of which were lost overboard, and vast quantities of meats, bottled fruits and vegetables and cheese, to provide a balanced diet and try to prevent conditions like scurvy, but they could not last for the nearly 3 years that the trip took!

The purpose of the voyage was as a scientific exploration of uncharted territory, so scientists and research equipment were all on board, covering geology, botany, zoology, cartography, physics and engineering.

Many of their findings are in use today. The ship itself was remarkable. Solid, with beautifully polished woodwork, and giving a real sense of life onboard.

But nothing could simulate the privations of their stay in Antarctica, at -60 degrees and eating seabirds! Devilled skua was one recipe.. apparently it tasted like devilled rotten fish!

Next door, the V&A’s architecture is supposed to echo the rugged Fife coast. Inside we visited a fascinating exhibition on how videogames are conceptualised and created, plus the problems they can cause.

We were surprised, and impressed, at the amount, and quality of ‘real’ drawing that occurs before the computer graphic stage.

Some games used full orchestra and choirs to record the backing music! The permanent Scottish gallery celebrates all aspects of Scottish design. Highlights for us were the Rennie Mackintosh oak room, an exhibition on the Beano.. DC Thomson publishers are based here, and the last tiara Cartier ever made, which was commissioned here, and contains over 25,000 diamonds.

The Scottish fashion exhibit had a lovely line in 1960’s skiwear!

To avoid city centre parking problems, we had earlier driven across the long Tay bridge, with the lovely views… including of more oil platforms in for maintenance!

We then caught the local train into and out of Dundee from Leuchars, crossing the railway bridge, under which you can see the stone stumps of the first rail bridge which collapsed in 1879 in a storm, killing everyone aboard the train that plunged into the river. A sobering thought. Back to Boris and we drive out to the Fife coast at St Andrew’s. This is the land of sand dunes and many, many golf courses, including the Holy Grail of Golfers, St Andrew’s itself.

The quaint town now has golfing hotels, and golfing apparel shops everywhere. On its south side are the remains of a magnificent 12th century Abbey, and castle, reminding us that St Andrew’s was here long before the first Mashie Niblick!

How has that tower stayed up for 800 years?! Of course, St Andrew’s recently had another claim to fame, and they are not shy about exploiting it!

Next, down the coast to Cambo Sands and our free car park for the night, again with a stunning sea view and the chance of an evening walk on the beach.

Next morning, a 6 mile walk along the lovely shore, and a pretty stream, watching birds and doing our usual beach clean as we go.

On the whole the beaches are pretty good, but we just pick up any plastic, ropes or litter that we see as a matter of course now. Something we can all do whenever we walk along a beach.

Fife is famous for it’s charming fishing villages, and we drove through Crail, Anstruther, St Monans and Elie

before turning inland to visit Loch Kilconquhar and then Loch Leven, a lovely RSPB reserve where we picked up 3 new birds for our species list, bringing our trip total to 99 different species in Scotland. We cannot leave without the elusive 100th! We also had traumatic ‘nature in the raw’ experience. I took this photo of a black headed gull chick on an island nest with it’s parent birds.

Seconds later, a greater black backed gull dived down and snatched the chick. Adult bh gulls mobbed it, but it got away. A sad Springwatch type moment!

We then started our drive across the more built up areas of central Scotland, until we reached the incredible Kelpie sculpture near Falkirk. Two enormous heads of Kelpies, mythical horses, that represent endurance and strength. They are 30 metres tall and stand by a turning pool on the Union canal. We could spend the night here on the lower car park for £5, which we did so that we could walk to see the Kelpies at night. However, being Scotland and mid June, it wasn’t dark enough until after 11pm! It was worth it though.

They gradually change colour, but my favourite shot is this one, with Chris standing next to one to really show the size and majesty of the Kelpies.

From here next morning, it was just 10 minutes drive to the Falkirk wheel. Scotland’s canal network was built 200 years ago as a major transport network for it’s burgeoning industrial output. The two main canals, the Union, and the Forth and Clyde canal, were linked here by a series of locks. The coming of the rail network, and road haulage meant canals fell out of use and were abandoned. Three blocks of flats were built on the site of the locks. In the 1990’s, interest in canals was renewed and a huge restoration project was begun. They no longer had locks, so they looked for ways to link the 2 canals, finally accepting this superb design from a team led by Tony Kettle.

This is the worlds only rotating boat lift, and has been a huge success both as a functioning boat lift and a tourist attraction.

After our boat ride on the lift, we drove to Uddingston, a leafy Glasgow suburb, and caught the train into Bridgeton, in the east end of the city, to meet Margaret, a dear friend from many years ago.

We had a super afternoon catching up, and visiting some fascinating places in a part of Glasgow off the main tourist trail. They certainly have a jazzy taste in cars!

Margaret works in the Glasgow Women’s library, which evolved from a small project set up in 1990, during Glasgow’s year as European City of culture. It has moved into a beautiful old library building, and is dedicated to women’s lives, histories and achievements, plus hosting workshops, literacy classes, history walks and many other activities for the community. Amongst their treasures is this beautiful umbrella stand, painted by suffragettes imprisoned in jail in Glasgow.

They also have an art space, and were recently chosen by the National Gallery to display a newly acquired painting. A self portrait of the little known but highly regarded, female renaissance artist, Artemesia Gentileschi.

Her story is remarkable. Her father was an artist, and recognised his daughter’s talent. He hired a tutor, who raped Artemesia and was put on trial! However Artemesia was subjected to gruelling questioning and physical torture during the trial that ensued, although finally, and very unusually for the time, he was eventually convicted. She rose to fame in Florence and Naples as an excellent artist.

Walking in the local area we visited the People’s Palace, built in 1898 as a museum of people, and daily life in Glasgow from the 1750s.

Behind it are the glass Winter gardens, currently closed, and in front, the Doulton fountain. The largest terracotta fountain in the world, it was the centrepiece of the Glasgow Great Exhibition in 1888. Some fascinating museum displays, reflecting both Glasgow’s heyday as 2nd city in the Empire, and the extreme poverty experienced here. Pictures of ‘Steamies’, tile clad communal laundries, were given extra meaning when we walked across Glasgow Green and saw the metal poles that would once have been connected by lines for people to hang their washing on, after visiting the steamie!

The most dramatic building was a huge, ornate, tile hung facade resembling the Doges palace in Venice.

However, it was Templeton’s carpet factory, built this way in 1888 to appease local residents who didn’t want an ugly factory in their midst! Templetons created Axminster carpets that graced Royal Palaces and cruise liners…including the Titanic!

It now houses a brewery and restaurant, where we had an early supper before saying our goodbyes after a lovely afternoon, and heading south to Girvan on the Dumfiries coast… coming full circle as we again had a view of Arran and Ailsa Craig from our car park stop!

Possibly our last night in Scotland, and our last being lulled to sleep by the waves.

Our last day in Scotland, so we drove around the beautiful coast of Dumfries and Galloway to RSPB Mersehead where we saw Sand Martin to take our total to over 100 in Scotland. Yippee! We also saw Roe deer!

Then to beautiful Rockcliffe and a wonderful, if hilly walk along the coast where we had not one, but two wonderful wildlife experiences. Firstly, Peregrine Falcons, nesting on the cliffs,

and secondly, a first for both of us, two young badgers rooting in the grass on the hillside!

Scotland was really saying goodbye to us in style!

We headed towards Gretna Green and the M6. After nearly 25 days of virtually hold up free motoring, the first thing we saw was a road works sign!!

Part 7 Aberdeenshire east coast.

Next day was grey and threatened rain, so we had planned indoor activities. The first was the museum of Scottish lighthouses at Fraserburgh. Chris visited this while I went to the local heritage museum next door, which had really excellent and thoughtfully displayed exhibits covering the towns history and its inextricable links with fishing. This photo of the Herring fleet in the 1880’s was really striking.

It was a hard life for many. The men followed the Herring fleets and were away for months. The women fished at home, and did everything else too! I loved the description of the women who, if they had any spare fish, would walk to nearby towns carrying a heavy basket of fish on their backs, to barter for eggs or butter. So as not to waste time, they would knit as they walked!!

It was well planned for children too… on a replica ship you could winch in a creel of herring and sort them into barrels… I quite fancied a go but was about 50 years too old, so I gave it a miss! The stories of local people were very moving. These particularly caught my eye, so I’ve included them for you to read if you wish.

It still hadn’t rained, so we changed plans and went for a walk at the rspb reserve at Loch Strathbeg, where we saw Spoonbill, a rare visitor here. Then, heading south, we bypassed Aberdeen and went to the wonderful Dunnlottar castle, probably the most impossibly sited fortification we have seen.

Partly ruined, but with some intact rooms, it is a fascinating castle, and takes some getting to! Surrounded by high cliffs, again thronged with nesting seabirds, and with waves crashing on the rocks all around, it is a very atmospheric place. It held out for 8 months against Cromwell’s troops, and was responsible for safeguarding the Scottish Crown jewels, which Cromwell wanted to destroy. Before the castle fell, they were smuggled out by Mrs Grainger, who then hid them in her bed!

Our stop for the night was the carpark at another RSPB reserve at Fowlsheugh, and we treated ourselves to a lovely meal out at the Creel Inn at Catterline, a tiny fishing village typical of this coast.

This chap was in the field near our overnight stop!

Another super day and a good nights sleep was followed by an early morning walk along the cliffs at the Fowlsheugh rspb reserve.

This is the largest mainland seabird colony in Scotland, and stretches for over 2 miles of cliffs where every tiny ‘des res’ ledge is occupied by either Kittiwake, Guillemot, Razorbills, Cormorant, Fulmar or Terns.

Some seem impossibly vertically perched!

Just checking out the new neighbours!

It seemed as though the cliffs, the sea and the sky were simultaneously full of birds, and the noise was incredible.Or even one of about just 20 puffin!

Then, southwards to the House of Dun, a beautifully proportioned and symmetrical georgian house designed by William Adam in 1743.

Even the interiors were symmetrical with paired doors and alcoves on each wall… although it turned out that symmetry overruled functionality at times!

The plaster work was exquisite,

although it was later found that the plasterer sometimes cheated! These were real shells from the beach that he just dipped in plaster and then stuck on!

The owners were the Erskine family, and in 1825 Lady Augusta, daughter of William IV, married into the family. She was a great needle woman and her stunning embroidered are seen throughout the house.

The later family were really into ‘mod cons’, and had this special bath

and even more special shower… a very advanced model in it’s day! Your servant had to stand outside and pump the water back up to the top all the time… as presumably it got colder and dirtier each time!

The commode next to it was the first to have a flush.. the white button emptied the contents into a tray below! Strikingly similar to the cassette toilet in our campervan, although we are missing the mahogany and wedgwood china!
We also enjoyed the gardens, and loved the game larder, set amongst lime trees to keep bugs away!!

Next a nice walk at Kinnordy Loch RSPB where we saw red squirrel and Osprey. However we also learned a salutary lesson. We had a picnic lunch in Boris before our walk. Suddenly a young man on a sporty motorbike roared into the tiny carpark and proceeded to repeatedly rev up his engine, looking angrily around him before roaring off. We, and others, were shocked as it seemed such a pointless act. Later, as we finished our walk at the peaceful loch, I spotted a memorial to Stephen Donaldson, covered in flowers. Of course I turned to Google. Stephen was a local lad who had been brutally murdered and then dumped in this car park exactly 1 year before. His hobby was motorbike racing. The angry youth disturbing the peace was in fact a very upset friend of Stephen paying him tribute. So easy to judge without knowing the facts. And so sad.

Our next stop abruptly changed the mood. Glamis castle was the childhood home of the Queen mother, and is truly a fairytale castle.

And we just happened to arrive on Highland games day. Too late for the games themselves, we did see, and hear, a lot of bagpipes!

The interior of the castle is gorgeous, and it is still lived in. It is a mix of 12th century castle, and more modern splendour. Unfortunately, no photos were allowed, so these two were from postcards!

A busy day, and the luxury of a campsite tonight for all the necessary ablutions! Five Roads park in Alyth was ideal. Small, quiet and with lovely hot showers.

Part 5 The Black Isle!

I have been playing catch up with the blog, and have finally made it with this post!

Our last morning in the Cairngorms was supposed to be spent at the RSPB reserve at Loch Garten, seeing the Ospreys, but sadly they didn’t return this year, so we walked in the beautiful Anagach woods in Grantown instead.

A wonderful walk through mixed woodland, with lots of birds, and some very cute red squirrels!

Also, a man in a kilt walking his dog who was very proudly telling us how much he loved his forest!

Then we headed northeast, past Inverness, to the Black Isle, a promontory next to the Moray Firth. First stop, Udale Bay to look for birds with the interesting spectacle of huge oil rigs in the bay which had been towed in for maintenance.

Some of them are huge!

At the tip of the promontory is the charming town of Cromarty, which we loved.It had lovely views, cute cottages, and some interesting Georgian architecture.

Full of history, it contained some interesting museums. We visited the old East church, and then the Hugh Miller house and museum. He was a local lad who became a Geologist in the late 18th century, and who, throughout work with fossils, began looking at evolution.

He also spearheaded the split of the Scottish Free church from the Church of Scotland, but is relatively unknown. The Courtyard garden contained art inspired by his work.

We also found this interesting(?) mnemonic for remembering geological eras!

Then to our stop for the night, the super Camping and Caravan club site at Rosemarkie which runs along the back of the beach and has very friendly wardens! Before supper, we did a lovely 1 hour walk up the Fairy Glen in Rosemarkie to the 2 pretty waterfalls at the top.

Then supper in the van, listening to the wind increasing in intensity! This was important, because we had to go out again, so putting on all our warm layers and waterproofs we braved the elements. We walked for 20 minutes to Chanonry Point at the end of the promontory for a very special encounter.

Approximately 1 – 2 hours after low tide, at this time of year, the incoming tide brings shoals of salmon up the Firth, heading upstream to spawn. These pass close to the end of the point, and they are often pursued by hungry dolphins! We waited for about 40 minutes, and, were just about to give up, when, at 9.30pm, they arrived, and we spent another 30 minutes watching fins dashing back and forth in a frenzy of feeding. The pictures are poor because they were moving fast in fading light.

They gave the occasional leap in the air!

This blurry shot is here because it shows a huge salmon tossed in the air. What an encounter!

Next day was a lovely pause from travelling to meet up with our friend Diana, who moved up to this delightful area last year. We met her for coffee in the tiny, and much more delightful than it sounds, Slaughterhouse coffee shop back in Cromarty.

Then a visit to the old Court House Museum and jail, which had fascinating displays about the history of the town, including dark days of poverty when the fishing industry collapsed, and how the North Sea Oil business has helped transform it’s fortunes. Our catch up continued over lunch in the super Sutor Creek restaurant, where the Scottish mussels were superb!

Finally back to Rosemarkie to visit the Groam museum of Pictish stones. These are found locally, and date back to both pre and early Christian eras.

They are beautiful designs, sometimes very intricate. The museum is also dedicated to George Bain, an artist born in 1881 who was fascinated by Celtic art patterns, and wanted to demonstrate how they could be interpreted and used in contemporary ways.

His body of work is kept at the museum, along with examples of what he inspired across many mediums… even knitting patterns!

We said our goodbyes, and turned south, as this was our furthest point north on this trip. We crossed the Moray Firth again near Inverness, and turned east for our free Britstop…. The Connage Highland Cheese Dairy and Pantry… we were looking forward to the shop opening in the morning!!

Part 4 Mountains!

Our objectives for our trip to Scotland were threefold. 1. To attempt a trip with no forward planning at all. 2. In the face of a fairly poor long range weather forecast, to try to dodge the rain as much as possible, and 3. To visit places in Scotland that neither of us had been to before. So, with our route starting to look as though a fly had stood in the ink, and was wandering around the page, it was time to head east again!

Our first stop was Inverary castle, delightfully situated near the head of Loch Fyne. The current castle was started in 1746 to a design by Vanburgh, and was easily the most beautiful one we had seen.

Home to the Duke of Argyll and his young family, it really felt like a loved and lived in home, albeit a very grand one! The main state rooms were stunning, especially the walls and ceilings, which were all original, and so pretty.

Even the weaponry was stylishly arranged!

Outside, the gardens were so well cared for, and again, we had arrived at peak Rhododendron time.

Leaving here, we had picked a nice looking route which headed southeast along the side of Loch Long, thinking we would stop for a late lunch picnic somewhere with a nice view. We were puzzled that there was not one parking place along it’s whole length, but the reason became clear when we reached a small port with MOD fencing around it. A Google search revealed it was the nuclear warhead storage and loading Bay for our nuclear subs!! We didn’t stop to take photos!

A few miles further on and we were passing Faslane our Submarine base proper, closely followed by a tiny cluster of multi coloured graffiti caravans, a peace camp. Our objective was Dumbarton, where there was a museum of shipbuilding. It was all that remained of the shipyards of William Denny, ship designers and builders since the 1800’s. They built the Cutty Sark, and many paddle steamers, ferries frigates and even hovercraft. At the heart of this museum was the 100 metre long testing tank, and some of the beautiful models that were built for testing on it, prior to being created in full size.

We had read that wild camping near Loch Lomond was very difficult, and required the purchase of a permit, and so were rather surprised to find the we could stop free of charge at the car park of the Duncan Mills Memorial railway, adjacent to the Loch Lomond steamship, the Lady of the Lake, which is being restored.

A nice evening walk along the lakeshore was followed by a sound night’s sleep.

Next day we skipped Conik hill as it was hidden in low cloud, and headed for Dukes Pass and the slightly off road Forest Drive, a pretty 7 mile track which passes several lochs. We stopped and did some walks, but were surprised at the scarcity of bird life here.

Then on to lovely Loch Katrine where we had a very enjoyable trip on the 100 year old steam ship, Sir Walter Scott, built at Denny shipyard!

This tiny boat was also steam powered!

We also visited Loch Awe, Brig o’Turk and Loch Venachar before heading to our first campsite for 6 days, the excellent Blair Drummond walled site. It enabled us to get laundry done and catch up with all the housekeeping, as well as visit it’s nearby castle.

Castle Doune is a striking building which is remarkably intact considering it was built in 1380.

This was the huge kitchen fireplace, and these were the marks where they sharpened knives!

Run by historic Scotland, it has a truly excellent, and very amusing, audio guide narrated by Terry Jones of Monty Python fame, for this is the castle that featured in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. The historical guide was interspersed with audio clips from the film, and it was fun to see visitors split between those who were grinning, or even giggling as they listened intently, and those who just looked baffled… mainly the many foreign visitors. It was my favourite castle of the trip so far!

Next day we turned North and headed for the Cairngorm mountains, stopping at Scone Palace on the way. Again HHA, so free admission, and another excellent and fascinating visit.

Home to the Murray clan, it sets out the history of the family, including their role in the abolition of slavery, but more importantly tells the tale of how, since 840AD, all the Kings of Scotland were crowned here on the Moot Hill mound.

At each coronation all the visiting nobles brought soil from their home and emptied it onto the mound, so it was as if the King was crowned on the soil of all his kingdom. They sat on the stone of Scone, until King Edward pinched it in 1296 and took it to London. In 1996 it was returned to the new Scottish parliament in Edinburgh. The gardens were again beautiful, and contained a lovely laburnum arch.

There was another maze, with an interesting centrepiece

and some peacocks, including a very unusual white one.

We resumed our journey north, stopping at Blairgowrie for provisions, and then driving up into the mountains to Braemar, where we turned on down a minor road to the Lin of Dee. This spot is where the river is squeezed through a small gorge.

It is also the start of a gorgeous walk following the river upstream and onto the moors. We hardly saw a soul!

Now onto our poshest wild camp. Her Majesty kindly makes spaces available for motorhomes to stop free of charge on her car park at Balmoral! Thank you ma’am.

Next day was devoted to walks.. firstly at the Muir of Dinnett, a National Nature Reserve with 2 excellent walks. A 3.5 mile walk passing Loch Dinnett where we saw Red Kite, Goldeneye ducks with chicks, and Oystercatcher and Lapwing nesting in the fields.

On the hill was a beautiful Pictish stone, over 1000 years old.

Then a second walk to Burn o’vat, a beautiful waterfall hidden in an almost circular cauldron carved out by water and swirling rocks.

Access was through a slippery, wet scramble, but the atmosphere inside was quite magical.

We then drove through Ballater, where the proximity to Balmoral is evidenced by the shops proudly displaying the Royal crests.

Then, down a narrow lane to the Glen of Muick (pronounced Mick). This isolated valley is wild Cairngorms at it’s best.

The waterside fields were full of ground nesting birds, including the elusive Black Grouse, a first for us both.

The biggest treat was the arrival of a herd of Red deer.

They were fairly tolerant of humans, and demonstrated that 4 feet is really not high enough for a deer fence, by jumping over it!!

As we left, the sun came out, so we decided to drive north across the snow road high in the Cairngorms, past Lecht ski area. The top was Windy, wild and wonderful!

We thought we might have spotted a Golden Eagle circle high above a mountain top, bit it never came close enough to confirm.

We descended to the Spey valley, and to a wildcamp on the riverside, adjacent to a fishing area. Fishermen came and went, all casting repeatedly in their quest to catch Salmon which were returning and heading upstream. An idyllic setting and a quiet night!

Part 3 Islands and nearly Islands…Arran and Kintyre

After a remarkably quiet night we awoke to a sunny morning. The ferry to Brodick on Arran took 75 minutes for a very reasonable £28.

Recently the ferry operator Calmac has had to drop their fares to RET, Road Equivalent Tariffs. This has of course been welcomed by many, but means that fares for motorhomes are much lower, so some of the islands, including Arran, are saying there are too many. I suspect in summer this is a real problem, but we saw less than we expected on our visit.

I had wanted to visit Arran since my sons went there on CCF camps with school, and came back with stories of amazing breakfasts, whisky gravy and alarming hikes where they had to be roped together! … I think they may have mentioned scenery and wildlife….. but probably not!

First stop was Brodick castle, set high above the bay, and with beautiful gardens.

It’s claim to fame is as the ancient seat of the Dukes of Hamilton, and is very much the archetypal baronial lodge with hunting trophies adorning the walls, and lovely state rooms. The food in the kitchen looked amazing… despite being fake!

The gardens are splendidly laid out, and were awash with the colours of Rhododendron and Azaleas.

They also had a red squirrel hide, but none there on our visit. A chaffinch wasn’t shy about eating the peanuts though! Look closely!

There was also an interesting book in the library that nearly persuaded me to take up yoga!!

We planned to drive around the islands coast, finding some walks as we went. Climbing the central mountains, including impressive Goat fell at 2866 feet, was not on the agenda!

Our first stop was at stunning Kildonan in the south, looking out towards Ailsa Craig. This strange island is where they source all the granite used to make curling stones!

We walked west past beautiful beaches and rocky shorelines, stopping frequently to watch the shore birds feeding amongst the rocks in the water. Some of the rocks would suddenly move! In fact there were hundreds of seals basking on rocks and in the shallows.

We also found a beautiful waterfall coming down the rocky cliffs, and hidden away in the luxuriant vegetation.It was a magical afternoon.

We continued driving west, and where trying to work out what other islands were coming into view. There was a huge one, very clear, that shouldn’t have been there! Then we realised we were looking at Northern Ireland, just 18 miles away! Heading up the east side, we found a great wild camping spot on a little car park almost on the beach. Heavenly.

Next day was much greyer, and again all day rain was forecast. (We had still managed to dodge it so far!!)

It was still dry, so we headed off to do a walk inland at Machrie, across the bogs and moor to the remains of 6 stone circles of standing stones that were burial chambers for ancient civilisations here about 4000 years ago.

It was remote and beautiful, with the mountains all around, and the grey, lowering clouds really added to the atmosphere!

Returning to Boris, we continued along the coastline to Lochranza, a very pretty harbour with an almost artistically positioned ruined castle.

The rain had still held off, so we decided to do a 4 mile walk over the northern headland to the Fairy Dell and return along the coast. It was a beautiful walk, but at the top of the hill we turned to look back…. and could no longer see the coast we had driven up that morning. A wall of Scotch mist was rolling towards us!

We headed on, with more urgency than before! The rain hit as we were halfway back, giving our waterproofs a good testing! Thankfully they were up to the job!

Returning to Boris, we discovered he had become a shelter for some sheep, and then we spotted some unusual players at the golf course!

We joined the queue at the ferry ramp, and caught the afternoon ferry to Claonaig on Kintyre.

Kintyre is technically a long promontory of the mainland, but only joined by a tiny bridge of land at Tarbert, so it feels like an island. The southernmost tip is the Mull of Kintyre, immortalised by a certain song! Despite the rain, we stuck to our plan to drive right around. The scenery was lovely, but not very photogenic in the mist! We did stop at a bird observatory and see nesting oyster catchers and eider ducks!

Our goal was Big Jessie’s cafe on the west coast, a Britstop where we hoped to spend the night. Arriving at 5.30pm, we were again parked adjacent to the beach, with Oystercatchers, sandpipers and gulls calling on the rising tide. Jessie’s cafe is a great example of isolated communities having to adapt to survive. A really excellent cafe that does breakfasts and dinners for some of the local accommodation, welcomes campervan who will mostly eat there too, and appeared to act as a transit point for deliveries and parcels to the neighbouring island of Gigha. It would have been rude not to sample the food.. and we had superb fish and chips, and of course a local brew!

We knew next day was very, very wet so we opted for a lie in.. and then a Jessie breakfast as brunch to set us up for the day! In fact, the brunch was so amazing, we didn’t eat again all day!

Mine was a speciality called Gigha Rarebit. I asked for bacon on the side, and was served a mini cooked breakfast.

It was certainly Chris’ first ever breakfast that included Haggis!!

Despite the rain, we enjoyed Kintyre. We left through Tarbet, stocking up in the Coop en route, and heading North to the Crinan canal. This pretty canal was built in 1801 as a short cut for Clyde ships heading to the Scottish West coast and islands.

It is very much in use today, although mainly by leisure boating.

The area south of the canal is wild and remote. The rain stopped and we did a fabulous walk down the hilly Taynish peninsula and achieved a great ‘first’ for us both… we saw not one, but two sea otters. Fantastic. Sadly no photos though! Then we visited Knapdale Forest which was the site of the much publicised beaver reintroduction. We had an excellent evening guided walk with the 2 very enthusiastic rangers. We held a beaver skin, and saw their webbed feet, and incredibly dexterous ‘hands’.

We saw their lodge, a dam and lots of gnawed trees!

Interestingly, beavers are vegetarian, and will crop trees for both food and lodge building, but they do not destroy them. They effectively coppice them, leaving them for long periods to regrow. They also only build dams if absolutely necessary, for example in times of drought, to conserve water. A fascinating evening .. but it was too windy to spot the beavers themselves!

We enjoyed another peaceful night, this time sheltered in the forest!

Scotland Part 2. Across the Scottish Border country

After a peaceful night’s sleep under the watchful eye of William Wallace, we headed downhill to Dryburgh Abbey.In a glorious setting, the Abbey was built in the 12th century by Premonstratensian canons, and in it’s heyday was home to a large community of religious and lay brothers. It was destroyed by the English in 1544, but remained a sacred, romantic place in it’s idyllic location by the River Tweed. It contains 2 famous, and contrasting graves. The first is a large grave and shrine to Scotland’s great author, Sir Walter Scott.The second is that of General Douglas Haig, commander of the Allied forces in World War One. His headstone is very simple, and is identical to the many, many headstones of his fallen troops in the tombs in France.In the grounds is an ancient yew tree, thought to be over 900 years old!Five miles away is the more complete, and imposing ruin of Melrose Abbey.Built in 1136 by Cistercian monks, it was again attacked by the English in the 14th century, and rebuilt. It fell into disuse around 1590, after the reformation. The architecture is elegant, and features some remarkable carving, including an impressive bagpipe playing pig!Another claim to fame is that the heart of Robert the Bruce is purportedly buried here. (His body is in Dunfermline cathedral).Also in Melrose, we visited Abbotsford, a striking house built by Sir Walter Scott as his family home. In a lovely setting by the River Tweed, it was set up as if he could walk in at any moment.He rose to the Victorian equivalent of megastardom with books like Ivanhoe, Rob Roy and The Lady of the Lake, but in later life was almost bankrupt. A poignant exhibit in the house was his desk and chair where, in later life, he describes being almost a prisoner for many hours each day, forced to turn out ever more books to pay his debts.We left lovely Melrose and headed west. We needed to reach the port of Ardrossan tonight, as we were booked on the morning ferry to the Isle of Arran.One more stop en route.. Traquair House, which is the oldest house in Scotland, continually occupied by the same family.Set in lovely grounds, the house was charming and full of interest. Started in 1107, the Stuart family have lived here since 1491, and their young descendants still do. Many Kings and Queens have visited, but pride of place goes to the fairly simple rooms that Mary Queen of Scots lived in, and the bed in which she gave birth to her son James, who would eventually unite England and Scotland as James I of England and James VI of Scotland. The embroidery on the bed hangings was done by Mary herself.This was his cradle, and these were other possessions of Mary herself.In order to keep houses like this viable, owners must be creative. The father of the present owner discovered an ancient brewery in the cellars. He tried it out and brewed a very good ale. The brewery is still in the cellars, and today produces 4 excellent ales which are exported all around the world…. a few made their way into Boris after some serious tastings!There is also an excellent full height maze that kept us occupied for a while!!The day of heavy rain that was forecast never materialised, although it was very grey all day, so apologies for the picture quality!Then we headed for the coast and our bed for the night on the quayside with a stunning view across to Arran.

A proper Bimble with Boris.. to Scotland Part 1. Heading north!

So, we are on a proper Bimble WITH Boris! I wasn’t planning to write a blog, but 2 different people today asked “Where is the blog?”, so here it is! In big chunks!!

‘To bimble’ means to wander, and we set off from home with nothing booked at all except supper and a pub quiz with Peter and Tracy in Bracknell! Our goal was to head north for Scotland, but with unsettled weather ahead, our itinerary would be flexible to try to chase the sun. Or the bright days. Or even the drier days. Or even the days with a few gaps in the rain!

During an uneventful drive up the M1 and A1, it was decided that our first stop would be Northumberland.

We never seem to make it past this beautiful area without stopping for a few days. Plus the weather there was lovely… less so further north. Having had a few problems with Boris prior to leaving, we wanted the first few nights on campsites just to check everything was ok.

Now winging it is great fun… but this was late May Bank holiday weekend, and the start of school half term… how would we fare getting a pitch?

All the big sites were full or, understandably, wanted a minimum stay of 3 nights. However, we were very lucky and had 1 night at Pippin’s Park, a 5 pitch Caravan and Motorhome club certificated site in a great location about a mile from our favourite place, Low Newton.

Or do I mean our favourite pub… the Ship Inn, with it’s own microbrewery. The pub was fully booked, but Chris’ soulful expression meant they squeezed us in for a fabulous dinner, followed by a glorious evening walk along the cliffs.

The best night’s sleep I have had in ages was followed by a visit to 600 year old Alnwick castle.. a place we had never visited before. Our HHA membership gave us free admission! A true castle residence, it is home to the Percy family, the 12th Duke of Northumberland. We took the free guided tours, and each one was fascinating.

Today’s top trivia… Harry Hotspur was Henry Percy, 5th Earl of Northumberland. He was a medieval superstar on the battlefield, and got his nickname because he rode into battle so fast his spurs got hot!

When a certain football club was formed in 1882, Harry’s attacking spirit saw the north London Tottenham side adopt the term Hotspur in their name.

Alnwick castle has also been used extensively in films and TV, most notably as Hogwarts in Harry Potter… Chris wouldn’t let me have broomstick lessons which were on offer… he said I didn’t need them…..!!

It was also used in series one of Blackadder… no coincidence that Blackadder’s hapless friend was Lord Percy?!

Downton Abbey, Transformers, Robin hood Prince of Thieves… the list goes on.

Next stop was the amazing, huge, Barter bookshop in Alnwick. This is the largest secondhand bookshop in Europe. It is converted from the old railway station, and, much to Chris’ delight, had model railways running round above the shelves!

Not only great books, but a super little cafe, armchairs and open fires means this great spot is busy all the time, and yes, you can take in your old books and barter for replacements! Another claim to fame is that, in a box of books bought at auction, the owner found the original wartime KEEP CALM AND CARRY ON poster that has since been reproduced in thousands of formats!. The original is on display in the shop!!

We had managed to get 2 nights on the Glororum caravan park, a mile from Bamburgh, so after checking in, we caught a bus to Budle Bay, and did the wonderful coast path walk back to Bamburgh.

The castle towered ahead of us, with amazing carpets of pink campion all around.

Next day, and we had booked a boat trip with Billy Shiels from Seahouses, to travel out to the Farne Islands just offshore. We have done this trip several times before, but each time it is sensational. The Farnes are home to literally thousands of breeding seabirds. Even if you are not keen birdwatchers, you cannot fail to be amazed at the spectacle. We sailed past cliffs where every inch of space was occupied by a nest precariously perched on a minute ledge. Their eggs have pointy ends so they roll in a circle and dont fall out!!

Guillemots, Razorbills, Kittiwake and Shag jostle for space, and fill the skies and the water.

Then, there are the seals… huge and imperious, resting on land, then slipping into the sea and gliding past like rockets!

Finally, the trip lands on Inner Farne, where Arctic tern are nesting everywhere, even on the footpath, and protective parents fly up and pack at the heads of passers by.

Past experience means a) We were a hat. b) the hat was lined with cardboard!! Very effective peck protection. The stars of the show are always the puffins, and standing feet away from these stunning birds is such a privilege. I even managed a photo of one with sand eels in it’s beak!!

On our way back in the boat we were thrilled with what we had seen, when suddenly the captain asked if perhaps seeing some dolphins might be nice! Suddenly a pod of 5 were alongside us, racing the boat. What a brilliant end to the trip.

Our last day in England (!), we visited Bamburgh castle, again free with HHA.

More austere than Alnwick, it is owned by the youngest generation of the Armstrong family, although they no longer live there. Essentially a Victorian reconstruction, on an ancient castle site, pretending to be an ancient castle!

For us, the most fascinating part of the visit was learning about the first Lord Armstrong. He was an amazing inventor and pioneering industrialist.

He built Newcastle’s Swing Bridge and the hydraulic mechanism that operates London’s Tower Bridge. He created Cragside in Northumberland, the first house in the world to be lit by hydroelectricity. He was the Armstrong in Armstrong Siddeley and Armstrong Whitworth, and was involved in designing aircraft, cars and ships.

He was also a great philanthropist, and this role is carried on today.

Leaving Bamburgh, we drove north, crossing the border into Scotland and driving to St Abbs Head.

We then hiked the 5 mile circuit along the beautiful cliffs, again watching colonies of seabirds. There were a lot of ups and downs, and we were walking into a very strong headwind, so by the end we felt as if we had done at least 10, albeit very exhilarating, miles!

The weather on the east coast was deteriorating, so we decided to head inland and find some indoor pursuits for the next day. Filling up with fuel, we realised we were definitely in Scotland!

We drove to Dryburgh and found a super spot to wildcamp… a tiny, hidden car park near a huge statue of William Wallace. Not a sound all night!! Fantastic.

South America Post 16 – Perfect Peru 4, Lima and Farewell.

Our last night in South America was spent in Lima, a huge city of over 10 million people. We had heard conflicting reports, from “Don’t go there”, to “You will love it”. Certainly, it is a troubled city. Like Rio and B.A, it has large shanty towns which are trouble hotspots, exacerbated by Peru opening it’s doors to Venezuelan refugees, and admitting over a million, with, apparently, no background checks at all, so most people we spoke to, feel that a large criminal element have entered as well.

I had found a small B&B in Barranco, a safe coastal part of Lima, famed for it’s architecture, and artistic background.

The B&B was called Second Home, and was exactly that, the second home and studio of artist Victor Delfin. He had sadly died a few years ago, but his wife still lives there. The building is full of his very distinctive artwork, and we were also to find some in Lima the following day.

Our room was lovely, with a view of the Pacific Ocean. Looking along the coast, we decided Lima is very like Bournemouth! Both set on cliffs, with deep Chines cutting down to the sea at intervals, and even a pier!!

Next day we had booked a 1 day tour of Lima before our transfer to the airport, with Peruvian Local friend, Cindy. She was remarkable. So enthusiastic and knowledgeable about her city. We saw Miraflores, full of early 20th century, European summer houses,

and the famous Garden of Love, with Gaudi style walls, and a Victor Delfin statue.

A festival of Love is held each year, with a competition for the longest kiss. 45 minutes is the record! Then onto the Olive park, planted as an oil crop by the Spanish, where some trees are over 300 years old.

Most remarkably, in the heart of the city, are the remains of some huge pyramids, Huaca Pucllana and Huallamarca, built by the Wari people around 500 AD. Built wholly in mud (adobe) bricks, they were solid inside, with a flat top, and were not burial chambers, but probably for meetings, rituals and sacrifices.

The largest would have covered 15 acres! They could be made of mud because they hardly ever get rain here. Also, mud is flexible if earthquakes strike. Lima is the second driest capital in the world, after Cairo. Water shortages are common, and over 10% of the city is not connected to running water. 20% of the city is classed as shanty town.

Then we headed downtown to the old heart of Lima, which was a wonderful surprise of elegant plazas and beautiful colonial buildings.

Founded by Spanish Conquistador, Pisarro in 1535, This city was the most important in South America for many years, controlling trade and Government in all the other conquered countries.

One week previously, the Government had made the central square, Plaza des Armas, pedestrianised, so it was even quite peaceful.

The fountain is very famous. Throughout the trip we have drunk many Pisco sours, based on the grape brandy Pisco. In July, peruvians celebrate Pisco day, when the fountain runs, not with water, but Pisco, and people queue for a free drink!

Government house reminded us of Buckingham Palace… and then we were told they have Changing of the guard each day!

The other main square is Plaza San Martin, named after Jose San Martin, who liberated them from Spanish rule in 1824.

Many of the old houses in Lima were famous for their beautiful wooden balconies.

We also visited the ornate church of Las Nazarenas,

and the Santo Domingo convent, which is where this first University of Lima was founded.

The convents all had beautiful ancient libraries.

This dais is where students had to read out 3 hour, prepared dissertations to their examiners!

The cloisters were beautiful, with original Spanish tiles dating from 1606.

Our next visit was to a the oldest private house in Lima, which has been lived in by the Aliaga family since 1535. It is a living museum, and was beautiful.

Much of the wall covering, and chair backs, was tooled leather.

We visited the old railway station,

and an old hotel bar, with Spanish wall paintings, photos of old Lima, and a barman who has worked there for over 70 years!

The final highlight was the church and monastery San Francisco, with it’s moorish influenced architecture.

It is most famous for the catacombs. Their construction is so strong, that they are a designated earthquake shelter. Tens of thousands of people are buried here, and the bones are all grouped in rather weird ways!! This intricate pattern is in a huge well, and is composed of femurs and skulls!

Despite this rather macabre spot, we loved Lima, and our guide Cindy said she has seen many improvements here during her lifetime.

We knew that in the 70s 80s and 90s Peru was in the dark period of attacks from its rebel Shining Path terrorist, communist party. However we didn’t realise that tourism in Peru did not really get going again until 2007, so is relatively new.

Sadly, now it was time to head to the airport for our flight home, ending this amazing trip.

We know we are so lucky to have been able to explore this captivating and diverse continent. On the flight home we discussed our overall impressions.

Everyone we met was friendly, helpful, proud of their country, and interested in us. We never felt unsafe.

No upset tummies or nasty insect bites!

We met very few other British people, suggesting it is not a mainstream destination for us, which is a shame.

Most countries were similar in price to home for food, accommodation etc.

Travelling was easier than we expected, and food was great however there is immense poverty, and a huge divide in living conditions etc.

Corruption seems to be rife at all levels in society, from Governments downwards.

Women often seemed to work ridiculously hard, but are a long way from having equality in financial remuneration or status.

Despite the vast size and diversity of the continent, we felt we witnessed more similarities than differences between countries!

We covered 29,358 miles and enjoyed everywhere we visited.

We have tried to pick some favourites because that it what everyone asks us, but it is so difficult.

Favourite countries?

Chris: Chile, Ecuador

Anne: Argentina, Chile, Peru, Ecuador, Cuba, Bolivia… all of them really!

Best overall moments?

Chris: Cape Horn; Under Iguasu Falls in a rib; Machu Pichu; Cloud forest rare birds; Perito Moreno glacier;

Anne: Seeing Machu Pichu from above; Cape Horn in Force 10; Snorkelling with sea lions and sea turtles; The colour, noise and vivacity of Cuba; The remoteness and solitude of Tierra del Fuego/Patagonia.

Favourite Wildlife experience?

Chris: Swimming with sea turtles, Galapagos

Anne: Frigate birds, Galapagos

Favourite scenery experience?

Chris: Iguasu falls, Glacier Alley

Anne: Perito Moreno Glacier,

Where would you most like to go back to?

Chris: Chile

Anne: Argentina and Bolivia

Thank you for reading our diary, and we hope you have enjoyed coming along with us on our trip.

We would recommend any of these countries for a visit, just use common sense, and please, use local tour companies, guides, accommodation and transport whenever you can, so the local community benefit from your visit. See you next time! XX

South America Post 15 Lakes and Legends

Next morning dawned cloudy and showery, so our view was still hazy.

We descended to town and boarded a boat to take us out through the massive reed beds to the Uros Islands.

The Uros people were persecuted in the 19th century, and fled from their shore settlements in their Reed boats. Gradually they evolved the idea of building floating Reed islands, using floating mud blocks containing reed roots as a base, then laying 2 – 3 metres of reeds on top.

There are over 100 islands, and 40% are fully inhabited, with a floating school and health centres. Many of the others are mainly there for tourism. The islands were small, with 5 -8 small huts on each, and between 10 and 20 people from the same family.

The surrounding water is 18 metres deep! We jumped on the reeds, and they were remarkably solid.

The top layer is supplemented every 2 weeks. Fish and bird eggs are primary foods, but they even grow crops on the island- usually potatoes! Reeds are used for everything, including the water tower, and symbolic condor!

Family feuds sometimes occur, and when that happens, the simply saw the island in half!!

A fascinating way of life.

Onshore, we visited the tiny Puno museum, which contained pre Inca, and Inca artefacts. The pottery was mainly Pre Inca,

as was this remarkable weaving.

This amazing gold neck plate was retrieved from the only Inca tomb that was not looted, as were these mummified bodies, buried in a foetal position, in reed wrappings, with food and essential possessions, ready for rebirth.

We next caught a local bus for a 3 hour drive to Bolivia at one end of Lake Titicaca. The lake is the highest navigable lake in the world, and is huge. It is over 120 miles long, and in parts nearly 1000 feet deep!! Jacques Cousteau came here in the 1970’s, and found giant frogs up to 20 inches long, that never left the water. Sadly they are now critically endangered due to pollution, often from illegal mining operations using mercury.

The border crossing is strict. After exiting Peru, we had to walk 200 metres into Bolivia, which was strangely exciting. Bolivian customs were quite grumpy, but we were allowed in. We saw our first bowler hated Bolivian lady!

Adopted by the locals in the 1920’s, when worn by British railway workers, they are now made locally to a variety of designs!

We were staying 1 night in Copacabana, a seaside village on the Bolivian shore, which gave Rio’s Copacabana beach it’s name. It was charming.

Our hotel was the unbelievably quirky Las Olas. 9 very individual rooms, Gaudi style. We were in a huge egg, with a circular bed, a spiral shower, and a great view!

Alpacas and Llamas wandered around freely! This is blurred as it was at night!

Next door, La Cupola restaurant was charming and we enjoyed a lovely supper. Next morning we took an all day boat trip to the Islands of the Moon and Sun. (Our boat was a bit bigger than these!)

It was a gloriously sunny day, full of fascinating history and dramatic landscapes.

These islands were of huge cultural significance to the Pre-Incans, and Incans. There is a legend that Lake Titicaca was once a dry, fertile land where people lived in peace, but they started to argue, and get greedy, so the Apus, or mountain Gods, decided to punish them, and sent Pumas, to destroy them all. Just 2 people escaped, and Inti, the sun God, cried so much that his tears filled the Lake. The two that escaped were the first Incas!

The Island of the Moon contains a temple to the moon goddess, built around 1450.

This was inhabited by Virgins, some of whom would be chosen to be sacrificed. The Incas believed in life after death, and to die in this way was considered honourable (presumably mostly by those who weren’t about to experience it!) The Incas abolished human sacrifice in the 16th century, but today some still sacrifice a black Llama on certain feast days!

This was a very atmospheric place. 3 delineated areas were for worship to the Moon Goddess, and Mother earth – Patcha Mamma.

The Andean cross was adopted by the Incas from earlier civilisations, and represents the Southern cross stars. It is deeply significant to the ancient and modern people. It appears everywhere in ancient Inca ruins, pottery, and in Christian churches and modern art. The four x 3 steps represent the 12 core precepts of Andean life, and the 4 outer sides are the compass points, the 4 major elements found on this planet, earth, air, water and fire and the 4 stars in the constellation. The centre point is Cusco.

We then moved on to Isla de la sol, Sun Island, where an early pre Incan temple survives, with Inca building on top.

Inti, the Sun God, was their most important. This temple had 3 openings. At each equinox, and solstice, the sun would shine directly into a specific opening, signalling to the people to start their new season of harvest, or sowing etc.

800 people live here, and tourism mixes with a traditional way of life.

We watched the donkeys clatter down the steep steps to the shore ready to carry the provisions that were arriving by boat, up to the top of the town.

We climbed high, and the views were stunning.

Returning to Copacabana, we visited the enormous 17th century Basilica which sits proudly above the town.

It was beautiful, but again Inca symbolism was part of it.

A few last evocative images from the town before we had to leave. We loved the humming bird at the flower stall!

We were sad we did not have more time in Bolivia, as we climbed onto the bus to return to Peru and our high up hotel!! We had both experienced the usual difficulties with altitude, shortness of breath and fatigue, but nothing more serious. However I think were both ready to return to sea level!!

Our last morning was spent at Sillustrani, 35km from Puno. En route we saw traditional reed thatched farms, with the rooftop Inca bulls as good luck charms.

We had come to see the Chullpas.

These tall chimney like structures were pre-Inca, and Inca burial towers, which had been looted by the Spanish many years ago. As we saw at the museum, the deceased were buried in the foetal position, with food, drink and treasures… and possibly a few members of their family who were killed and buried with them. Rough stones were pre Inca, smooth were Inca.. but you know that by now!!

Each tower had a small opening to the east, through which their spirit would be reborn to the God of the Sun. This opening was surrounded by a half Andean cross. When the sun rises at the solstice, the shadow makes a full cross. Each Incan leader would have his symbol carved on the tomb, as they had no written language. This is a lizard.

These Incan, and Pre-Incan troughs of water were used to reflect the stars.

It was a fascinating and moving site, perched on a hill above Lake Umayo.

From here we headed to Juliaca and our flight to Lima, for the last day of our amazing trip.

South America Post 14 Perfect Peru Part 2 – Cusco and a special train!

Sad to leave the Sacred Valley, we headed for Cusco, located at 11,510ft, staying 1 night at the lovely old Andean Wings hotel, formerly a Spanish villa. Breathing was noticeably harder here, and most hotels have oxygen available.Cusco means navel, because it was the centre and capital of the Inca kingdom, which at it’s height stretched to Chile, Ecuador, Bolivia and Argentina. We had just 1 day, so chose to do an excellent walking tour with Inka Milky Way! Our guide was excellent, it is a beautiful city and we learned so much.There were once 15 Inca palaces in Cusco, but when the Spanish came, they demolished them, and used the stones to build Spanish colonial style buildings and churches.One Inca wall remains, plus recently discovered Inca Palace foundations, showing a symmetrical pattern of rooms, and a water system.Outside town is Sacsayhuaman, an Inca citadel with amazing walls all with the mortar less construction.Later, I visited the Cathedral, which is really 3 churches in one. The Gold and silver decoration is dazzling, as were the intricately carved wooden choir stalls and screen.We have been learning how, when the Spanish invaded, they imposed Catholicism on the local people. Many adopted it, but retained their allegiance to their original deities, gods of Sun, Moon and Patcha Mamma, or mother earth. So it is not unusual to see Inca imagery and local customs entwined with Catholic symbolism in churches. In Peru, Guinea pig, or Cuy, is a very popular food. (We have eaten Llama , Alpaca but resisted the temptation of Cuy..partly because it is very expensive!) To return to the cathedral, inside is a huge painting in Rennaissance style, done in about 1750 by local artist Marcos Zapata.However the food in the painting is not fishes and bread, but Guinea pig and potatoes!! No photos were allowed, but I sneaked these!Following our tour, we embarked on a cookery course. Jesus took us on a very informative tour of the market, which was built by Gustav Eiffel! Outside, he explained that street food is a main way to eat in Peru, and many people will take meals this way, especially breakfast.Inside the market, masks were popular. These were designs from the past when the locals mimicked their Spanish rulers, depicting them with big noses and moustaches!These were some of the highlights:The jelly stall… including a creamy cow bone marrow one!Many different potatoes… including ones which are freeze dried by being left outside, high on the altiplano, where it is hot in the day and below freezing at night. They keep forever. Just rehydrate and use.Drying is a very popular method of preservation. This rather unappetizing stall sold very dried fish!Every part of the pig is eaten.And not for the squeamish, aborted Llama fetuses are dried, and sold to be used as offerings to the Gods.Many varieties of Quinoa…. (now we know it is officially pronounced ‘keenwah’), which we saw growing everywhere…it is very pretty crop.55 varieties of corn, and popcorn is hugely popular (excuse the pun!)We bought many exotic fruits and vegetables, and returned to his studio for our cooking class.First, and most important how to make the perfect Pisco Sour.Then we made: 3 types of Ceviche.. raw fish cooked simply by placing it in citrus based marinade. All were gorgeous.Then, a potato souffle, Quinoa Risotto and a 3 fruit dessert.It was good fun and yummy!Next day and another adventure. I had booked tickets on the recently revived 10.5 hour train trip up through the Andes from Cusco up to Puno, on Lake Titicaca (12,650 feet). We splashed out at £150 each, but we had no idea what to expect, and as you know, Chris loves trains, so it was an early Anniversary present.It was fantastic. The time literally flew by! A beautiful train with a partly open observation car made viewing the stunning scenery a real pleasure.As we travelled there was frequent tooting, as there are no level crossings, and people, animals and vehicles freely cross the tracks. Not everyone was happy… dogs howled and many children covered their ears!!Plantain and corn nibbles, plus tea coffee and water were freely available. Then, welcome Pisco sours (at 10.30 am!!), really superb local musicians and dancers who did 2 different shows, and a fashion show of baby alpaca clothing!Audience participation was actively encouraged.The guitarist was a secret rocker, and we had the slightly surreal experience of him launching into Jimi Hendrix and Chuck Berry numbers between the Panpipes!!A great 3 course lunch, with wine, and afternoon tea were all included in the price.And, the loveliest toilets, kept spotlessly clean throughout. Take note British railways!We also stopped at the highest point on the route, at 4,139 metres or 13,698 feet where we were able to buy some handicrafts made by local people.We passed through Peru’ Guinea pig breeding heartland, and learned that 65 million are consumed here each year!We literally drove though the market in Juliaca, and as we passed, stalls were re-erected on the track. Many things were left between the rails for us to pass over. As soon as the train had gone, the track was filling up again. But Peru, like most South American countries, has a massive poverty problem. A close look showed large sections of the market selling things we would throw away as rubbish.Decrepit housing – 22% of peruvians have no direct water supply! And these shacks are the toilets for the nearby housing.We also saw people washing clothes in the rather murky river.Throughout our trip we have seen terrible poverty, and social divisions, but again in Peru we were told that by using local firms and small businesses, we were helping the economy, and reaching the lower paid in the society.Still, we felt guilty, returning to our lovely journey! We arrived in the city of Puno, on the shores of Lake Titicaca, in the dark, and were taken by taxi to Mirador de Titicaca… our hotel. We knew it was a little out of town, but not that it was up an almost vertical dirt road!!We knew we were high, as we were out of breath just walking to the loo!! It turned out we were just over 4,000 metres! Luckily, apart from a slight headache, tiredness and breathlessness, we escaped the worst side effects of being at such a high altitude. It is a very real problem, and most hotels, and the train, have oxygen cylinders at the ready.Apparently, at this height, oxygen saturation drops to 65-75%. Normally, doctors get worried below 94%! The hotel was lovely, but we would have to wait until morning for a view of the highest navigable lake in the world!