Part 9 Homeward bound

Back in England, we spent the night at Gibraltar Farm campsite overlooking Morecambe Bay.

A nice site with modern facilities, it is just 2 miles from RSPB Leighton Moss, which we visited the next morning for a last walk. We managed to see Osprey, Marsh Harrier Pochard and finally a Blackcap, bringing our species total for the holiday to 105.

Then, a good drive south to our favourite campsite at Warwick, Paul and Pam’s drive. (We had planned to meet them for the weekend camping in Tewkesbury, but the site owner had cancelled us due to flooding!). On Saturday, we visited beautiful Spetchley Park gardens (HHA),

and then Croome Park, the first estate landscaped by Capability Brown,

with Adam interiors,

and some rather interesting art installations,

including some by Grayson Perry.

Sunday was home time, meeting up with Jen and Samson en route for a lovely walk near Newbury, up to to original Watership Down.

Then home and we got the washing on!

What a super trip. We enjoyed it more than we expected given the cool grey weather, and in fact, by being unplanned, we were free to pick our route, and follow the dry weather, which we did pretty well. We were certainly much drier than they were in England. Our route looks wiggly, but it was very logical!

By using mainly off site overnight stops, our nightly fees averaged £5.20 per night! Our fuel was by far our most expensive item at £450. We spent £30 on admissions, and this included the Falkirk Wheel. Our National Trust cards saved us £60 in admissions, and historic houses (HHA), a whopping £264. The Art Pass saved us £23, and RSPB £27. We cannot extol their virtues enough. HHA is particularly useful in Scotland, where many of the bigger, expensive castles belong to the scheme.

What a super Bimble with Boris.

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.