Shamrock's Journey After driving the Silk road in 2017 from Bangkok to London in our 1969 MG GT and exploring the UK and Europe over a few years, we are ready to bring Shamrock back to Australia via a more Northerly Silk Road route.
After leaving Berwick upon Tweed we drove south to the Border to Newcastle upon Tyne to take the overnight ferry to Amsterdam. Taking the coastal track we were greeted by the sight of the King of Castles, Bamburgh Castle, an imposing sight not far from the Holy Island of Lindisfarne, famous for its low tide only crossing. This medieval castle is home to Lord Armstrong and has stood on this site from early Celt- Briton times. The state rooms are imposing, grand and the grounds expansive. The castle was in near ruin in the 1897’s until the second Lord Armstrong decided to convert to a respite home, spending more than a million pounds on it. Lord Armstrong of Armstrong Whitworth fame was an industrialist who invented modern arms, airplanes (Siddesley engine), and many more machines.
It is still a family home during certain times of the year. The views out to the neighbouring islands and the sea beyond bear testament to the importance of its position. Well worth the visit.
It didn’t take long to reach Newcastle and the ferry terminal and before we knew it we were sailing on smooth seas down the coast of England to Amsterdam.
Once again we were on the road preparing to meet some of our Silk Road companions in Apeldoorn to start our European tour in our trusty MGs.
The scenery of the Highlands is breathtaking and the weather has started to improve slowly. After a pleasant stay in Dower House in Muir of Ord, near Pitlochry we drove onto a town not too far for our ferry point. We found ourselves in Berwick upon Tweed. Quite comforting to see familiar names from Australia on the map as we drove. Blairgowrie, Perth, Dalwhinnie (distillery), Berwick, Newcastle.
Berwick upon Tweed a town on the Scottish borders must have been fought over 13 times by the English and Scottish over 300 years. The town is surrounded by tall steep ramparts with openings for cannons facing the sea, ready to repel invaders from the sea. Known as the Elizabethan walls they represent the most complete bastioned town defences in North Europe. Several impressive bridges cross the Tweed river, the most famous was built by Robert Stepehenson, the son of the Father of the Railways George Stephenson. The royal borders Bridge is over 2000feet long with 28 magnificent arches which span the river. It is amazing what you spot when walking around a town. We came across the Lowry a beautifully restored house which was once owned by the Artist LS Lowry – 1887 – 1976, recognised for his stick like drawn figures and town scenes.
In the town there were many churches and one of the most interesting was the Trinity Church of St Mary, the most northerly Anglican church in Great Britain. It was builtin the Cowellian style – very austere, no spire, stained glass or even an altar. These all came later. The entrance is flanked by two Norman like towers.
Seafood is to be relished here such as sardines, haddock, cod, plaice and small sweet muscles which we enjoyed in a quaint hotel called the Cobbled Yard Hotel. It had recently been refurbished and boasted original etched Rose and Thistle glass windows which the owner recently discovered. On all the tables there were vases of red roses and beautiful purple and green sea thistles.
Driving from Thurso we stopped off at Dunrobin Castle and were introduced to an outstanding display of falconry. Dunrobin Castle home to the Duke of Sutherland is one of the grandest homes in Scotland. Fashioned a like a French Chateau with conical turrets and the most superb gardens, set on the coast overlooking the sea.
The eagle owl was very happy to sit and watch his other feathered pals do their thing after he had finished his performance…
Travelled past Glenmorangie a fully working distillery and the aromas and scent of roasting barley and mashing enticed us in. The copper stills are the tallest in Scotland up to 6mts, the height of an adult male giraffe which is their mascot. Plus a sampling of a 10 year old whiskey and a 12 year old one – very aromatic.
We saw a hawk, falcon and owl eagle catching prey and the falconer explained and demonstrated how they trained the birds. Extraordinarily graceful and intelligent even though “tame” still wild.
Interiors of Dunrobin Castle were stunning, beautifully set up to display how the Sutherland family and clan lived their lives.
A 40 minute ferry ride over the Pentland Firth began our trip to the Orkneys. A little rough but not too bad. Touring the numerous islands with a commentary was so enlightening. We spotted pigs which were so woolly they resembled sheep and the famous hairy cows which wide horns and shaggy red brown coats.
In Kirkwell the capital town of the Orkneys we visited the magnificent red stone Romanesque styled St Magnus Cathedral which took over 300 years to build from 1137 while the Norse Earls ruled Orkney.
Interior of Stone Age hut
St Magnus Cathedral
The barriers are a series of concrete block bridges which joined many of the islands together and prevented enemy boats from entering the Scapa and surrounding waterways. They were commissioned by Churchhill during WW2 after a German U boat torpedoed the British battleship Royal Oak, resulted in the deaths of more than 800 mainly very young trainee sailors.
Around lunchtime the weather deteriorated dramatically as we walked to Skara Brae, a Stone Age village of at least 10 stone huts all perfectly preserved under the sands. No-one knows what caused the sudden abandonment of the village but it has left us with a collection of vessels, clothing, food etc which enabled archaeologists to gain detailed knowledge of Stone Age people’s lives 5000 years ago in this area. Even though we were soaked through by the driving rain the visit to this site was very special.
Nearby is Skaill house which belonged to the owner of the land and archaeologist who discovered the village. Several other land owners have accidently unearthed either Iron and Bronze Age villages and artefacts, while gardening on the properties, such as the Ness of Brodgar, a ancient temple complex.
Other significant sites we visited were the Standing Stones of Stennes, and the Ring of Brodgar which resembles a mini Stonehenge. And the Bronze Age burial mound of Maes Howe and the Ness. The Italian Chapel stands testament to the ingenuity and creativity of Italian prisoners of war who built and decorated the building from any scraps they could salvage.
Wind power reigns supreme on the Orkneys, they are producing more than they need and can on sell. They are also still working on new ways of harnessing wave and tidal power. Also they are still benefiting and prospering from payments from the North Sea Oil that is refined and shipped out of here.
A fascinating place well worth the visit, even though it was very wild, cold and windy.
After driving from Dumfries to Balloch (top of Loch Lomond) we enjoyed a cruise on Loch Lomond, even though the loch and surrounding mountains were shrouded in misty rain. Most of the day has been raining a persistent fine drizzle. We embarked on a delightful cruise up and down the Loch and were greeted by the sight of grand towering stone mansions which stood sentinel along the banks of the loch. Many are now hotels or golf clubs. With the drizzling rain, the scene was reminiscent of a Gothic novel. Luss near the top of the loch is a picturesque historic stone village. Driving on around stunning scenes of lochs surrounded by brilliant shades of green grasses and bracken, and pinky mauves of stubbly heather you could see where the inspiration for the colours of the many colourful tartans came from.
Dunstaffnage was built ono a rocky outcrop over looking the sea – a perfect defensive position. This bleak castle was owned by the McDonalds and then the Campbells. Fiona McDonald who helped Bonnie Prince Charlie escape to Skye, was imprisoned here for a time.
We drove along stunning scenery of misty mountains, lochs glistening in the sun, occasionally dotted with salmon pens. Even though the rain persisted we explored Glencoe and Fort William at the base of Ben Nevis.
As we drove further into the highlands we were lashed by wind and rain. Flashes of purple and pink, green and yellow spiked the dark green conifer forests hanging with garlands of irish moss. Finally we arrived at Loch Carron, a long narrow loch.
Driving the North 500 was a terrific experience, mainly on genuine single tracks with passing places every 100 yards or so. From Loch Carron to Applecross across the famous Pass of the Cattle – the steepest and highest road (2048 feet) in Great Britain, with 11 hairpin bends and a gradient of 15% all on single tracks. The vistas were magnificent, vast and breathtaking of the lochs sparkling below surrounded by the windswept mountains, peaty bogs and cascading waterfalls sparkled across the rocky landscape whenever the sun managed to peep through the swirling clouds. Shamrock gobbled up the miles and terrain efficiently and tirelessly. GO SHAMROCK WELL DONE!
After Applecross we continued on to Shieldaig, Torridon and onto Scourie. The scenery becoming more rugged and bleak with every mile. What a place I can’t imagine what would make anyone want to live here!
From Scourie we drove on to Thurso up North. We visited John O’Groat and visited the gardens and Castle of Mey – the castle owned by the Queen Mother.
We were given a delightful tour of this quaint castle situated on the cliffs of Mey which has been left the way the Queen Mother would have lived in it. It was like going back in a time capsule to the 50’s. Definitely gave you an impression of a woman who had a sense of humour and fairly modest tastes. in her living room she has a tapestry on the wall and on the very top of the rail there is a little stuffed toy of the Loch Ness monster which someone had placed there as an ongoing joke and she left it there.
Where is your summer UK! we know it has been very hot (around 30) and dry but since we arrived it has rained every day! Come on!
It was wonderful to reacquaint ourselves with Shamrock again. The MG was stored in a garage in the Chiltern Valley and played a heroic role in saving a person’s life. Ivy covered the roof of this garage and the dutiful son thought he’d help out his father and cut it back. Whilst up on the roof of the garage, the son fell through the roof, onto Shamrock’s roof. Shamrock broke his fall. If Shamrock wasn’t in position, the son would have landed on the concrete floor below. As it was he suffered 6 broken ribs and was off work for 3 months. The metal roof on the car was sprung back and repaired and looks good as new! Ready to take us on our tour of Scotland and the famous North 500 driving route, along with other picturesque driving roads, before crossing the sea to Holland to start our central European sojourn. Where we will be taking on some challenging driving roads in the Dolomites and the Alps.
Driving up from Birmingham to Dumfries we encountered some extremely heavy and blinding rain; you could almost see the pale golden harvested fields changing colour through the torrents of drenching rain.
Caerlaverock Castle just outside Dumfires was the first stone castle built in 1220 in Scotland. The second castle was built a short way away due to soggy ground. It is a triangular moated stone building with stunning stone pediments over the 12 windows in one wing of the castle. The stone pediments depicted various coats of arms, mythological and allegorical reliefs. The living and entertaining quarters were the height of fashion with huge fireplaces reaching up 2 and 3 stories. A very well preserved and imposing castle.
Here we go again! I think we were already planning another driving trip before last year’s Silk Road adventure had finished.
We are in the process of picking up Shamrock, our 1969 MGB GT from Sid in Lacey Green in the Chiltern Valley England. Shamrock has been revitalised with a good going over and service. She is running very nicely.
We arrived expecting promises of exceptionally hot English summers but we must have bought the cooler weather with us. I think the locals are very grateful after enduring many weeks of dry and above average temperatures.
Peter and I are planning on taking Shamrock on a Highland fling around the coast of Scotland, before heading of on a ferry from Newcastle to Amsterdam. We are planning to do a more casual and sedate driving trip around central Europe.