Falconry and Whiskey

Children's nursery
Children’s nursery

P1070734.JPGDriving 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.

P1070751
Dunrobin castle
P1070762
Eagle Owl

P1070776

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.

P1070746.JPG

 

Such breathtaking grandeur!

Wet and Wild Orkneys

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.

 

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.

P1070709
Italian Chapel

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.

 

Misty rain and lochs…

P1070665
Castle of Mey – once owned by the Queen Mother
P1070612
Misty mountains viewed from the shores of Luss on Loch Lomond

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.

P1070634
The old Chapel at Dunstaffnage.

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.

P1070665

 

Bonnie Scotland

 

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.

On the Road Again- here we go!

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.

WE MADE IT!

11-12 July

Calais to Abingdon

Loading onto the Eurotunnel

On our way to Calais we travelled through the Ardennes forest, through fields, much to our relief we noticed the temperature dropping and heavy rain clouds gathered.

We stopped at Dunkirque and enjoyed a walk along the foreshore. Soon the rain began and the wind picked up  -11 degrees what a contrast to the hot weather we have experienced. We stayed at the Holiday Inn which is near the border crossing and the rain continued overnight and into the next day our last day!

12 July

Inside the metal tube!

We had a delayed departure due to an incident in the Euro tunnel. But what an experience! Travelling underground, under the sea!

We arrived and drove off for Kimber House, beginning through small villages but the delays forced us onto the motorways.

Kimber House

Finally we arrived to a wonderful welcome and a delicious lunch at Kimber House the home of the MG car Club.

We made it and Shamrock did the badge of MG proud in her consistent and reliant performance. Well done Shamrock and well done Peter for taking me safely half way around the world.

We celebrated with a final dinner at the Dog house Pub where we reminisced about our adventures through presentations of our favourite photos.  What a fabulous end to a once in a life time experience during which we made life long friends.

Nearly there!!

10 July

Heidelberg – view from our hotel

Heidelberg Germany to Rochefort Belgium

This part of our trip is only a quick run through Europe to Abingdon England, after departing the Silk Road in Turkey. There are many routes from the East to the West and we have explored one of the main ones.

La Malle Poste a delightful small hotel in Belgium – view from our window

Heidelberg is one of those cities you are immediately drawn too and  even though we spent only a short time ther we would love to return on another journey.

We had a relatively easy run down the freeway but had to divert due to a freeway closure. This detour took us through thick forests, open plains of wheat and small villages. We reached Rochefort with plenty of time to cool off with a swim  and enjoy the town and the small charming stone boutique hotel, Le Malle Poste we are staying in.

11 July

Rochefort Belgium in the main street

Rochefort  Belgium to Calais France

We are almost there! It has flown by and it is hard to believe we have travelled over 25,000kms. We have a HUGE day tomorrow for our Chunnel crossing and arrival in Abingdon.

We left Rochefort early so we could enjoy a scenic drive on the back roads of Belgium and France. We travelled through the Ardennes onto Calais.

The Balkans

7 July

Strange structure on the way ?

Timisoara to Budapest

How lucky and fortunate are we to have this sensational opportunity to travel half way around our stunning world and meet so many people who are just like us and want to get on with their lives. Maybe all politicians should make this part of their societal obligation of meeting and seeing other worlds as they are and it may remove so much greed and power lust from them –  that is if they are capable of seeing beyond their own ambition.

Lunch in Vienna with travelling companions

Despite the personality mixes, time and distance involved in this adventure we are a cohesive group  who have remaind steadfast in  helping one and all. We have meet wonderful people who have become our friends by sharing in a multitude of experiences and emotions. What else can anyone ask for…commonality binds us all.

The daily trips are around 350 – 400 kms this is the only way we can reach our destination in Abingdon and the driving is fast and furious the trucks are disciplined staying in their designated lanes and at their speed but the speed on the freeways ranges between 130 – 140 kms. Little Shamrock is doing a sterling job maintaining a very respectable speed of 120-132km but we are sitting on about 120-125km – not bad for a car from 1969.

The border crossing was very quick  and the freeway smooth and well signposted

Budapest is a stunning city and one we would like to revisit. Highlights have included taking the tram into the centre of Budapest, a boat cruise on the Danube and a ride on the Hop on and off bus. This way was a terrific way of viewing all the major sites, buildings and attractions. All ready for a return visit.

A delightful surprise came from the Hungarian MG car club who stopped by our hotel for a visit bringing their immaculately kept cars with them including a Triumph Spitfire, a MGB roadster and a MG Sprite  and MGB GT. Many photos were taken and will be shared. All could have taken out Concours prizes with their cars. It is a young club and we wish them will in their future growth of the MG family.

Once again we felt humbled by the efforts people have made as we have travelled the Silk Road, including Suzanne who made each car a little memento from Hungary. We hope to welcome some of them to Melbourne one day.

8 July

Budapest to Wein

Only a short drive today of about 2 ½ hours on the freeway at a rapid speed. Surprisingly it is still hot – in the 30’s.  As we cruised down the freeway we were surrounded by conifer and birch forests, wheat and sunflower fields yet again, passing by castles and Schloss peeping above the greenery.. We were fortunate to be able to check in immediately and this gave us time to take the Metro into Stephanplatz the centre of this gracious old city.

So many coffe cafes and restaurants to choose from but we did go back to Demel for strudel and coffee. Here we watched the pastry chefs creating an amazing cake of a pond complete with a boy and his net, fishing for frogs, lizards and fish. Absolute work of art! After a walk and ride on the Hop on and off bus taking familiar sites of the Spanish riding school, the Belvedere, Schonbornn Schloss, and Shopping malls.

Today was a relaxing day enjoying good food, wine and friends as we wandered around – tomorrow we embark on one of the longest drives of the trip.  704 kms to Heidelburg!

9 July

Watching horse drawn carriages while having lunch inVienna out side Cafe Mozart

Wein to Heidelberg.

Off early for a mammoth drive of just over 700kms, fortunately it was Sunday and trucks and heavy transports aren’t allowed to travel on the freeways! What joy! but other cars were passing us doing well over 150- 200+ kms but the good old MGs held their own. Peter was leader for the day and was vigilent about stopping every 2 hours for a break, rest and refreshments. We made it into Heidelberg 7 ½ hours later. This gave us a chance to explore this charming ancient university city. What a joy to walk around and take in the shops and restaurants, beautiful churches and buildings of this pedestrian oriented city.

Once again we were met by a MG car club member who enjoyed a meet and greet with us.

Another place for our must return to list.

Views of Vienna

Goodbye Asia, Hello Europe…

On the ferry to the Dardenelles

4 July

Canakkale to Plodiv Bulgaria

The morning was still warm as we boarded the ferry with our cars for Plodiv. We travelled across to the Peninsula and the Dardenelles, passing through fields of sunflowers appeared to nod their farewells as we headed for the border. Fields of gold, green and yellow wheat and sunflowers  flashed by us as we travelled North West.

Fields of goden sunflowers followed us through out out trip from turkey and europe. Depends on the clmate……..

The Bulgarian border was dealt with quickly. To travel on the expressways and highways we needed to buy a viniette.  The purple of lavender was introduced into the landscape, and provided a contrast to the increasing fields of gold and yellow.

The old town of Plodiv was enchanting with many of the wooden and stucco houses from the 1850’s were being restored. We viewed the ancient ruins of a Roman theatre, Agora, amphitheatre, and several churches including Virgin Mary and St Dieter where we saw an exhibition of superb icons painted by the graduates of the Art academy who spent up to 5 years studying how to write(paint) icons. This town is a walking town because the streets made of cobblestones and flagstones are very narrow and steep.  After dinner, we stopped at the Agora to watch fireworks and a military display of machine gun fire and rifles. A charming city seeped in history – it is amazing to see how far the Silk Road and the Roman empire reached.

Storks on the look out
Plodiv – beautifully restored buildings
Art work on the walls near the Art Academy – Plodiv
Another large roman theater complex – truly amazing for all those centuries ago!
All newly restored houses with beautiful wooden cantilever overhangs enhanced by detailed stucco painted walls. A real compliment to the towns people and owners. Keep it up!!

5 July

Plodiv Bulgaria to Craiosara Romania

Now we are on the final run to Abingdon and the little MGs seem to sense they are returning to their roots. What we thought would be a 3-4 hour journey finished up being about 7 to 8 hour trip due to the biggest multicar accident we have ever seen. 40 cars collided at 6.00am in dense fog and smoke on the freeway – at least 20 people were taken to hospital some in a critical condition, fortunately there were no fatalities. We came across the accident at about 9.30am and  were diverted by the police on a 2 ½ hour journey through the country side along with thousands of other travellers. The border between Romania and Hungary is the Danube river which we had to cross by car ferry unfortunately it had a mechanical fault and was running 45 minutes late. We arrived in Craiosara around 6.30pm. At the hotel we enjoyed a refreshing swim, delicious dinner with Jazz. Just the thing after a very long and hot journey.

Haystacks standing sentinel over the vast hay fields.
Crazy looking tower in the park and lake attached to the Danube where we had lunch. Don’t know what it was used for.?? Serbia on the other side
More Guards…..

6 July

Craiosara Romania to Timisoara Romania

no camera here – doh…

Travelling on the way to Timisoara we followed the Danube and could see the Serbia on the other side of the river. We stopped for a picnic lunch in Orsavo on the banks of the river. Weird being so close to so many countries. This was another slow journey due to a single carriageway all the way and a multitude of heavy trucks and transport vehicles coming in both directions. But it didn’t spoil our view of the fields of sunflowers, wheat and mown hay stacked into conical bundles around old tree trunks or sticks. This left the bundles looking like scraggy scrawny remnants of scarecrows standing like tired sentinels in the mown fields and valleys. Along the way we were greeted by more storks in their nests perched on lamp posts or chimneys.

Some of these places we are travelling through we haven’t heard of, until Tony mentioned the revolution in 1989 and Ceausescu the dictator.

Timisoara is an old town with a beautiful Greek Orthodox Cathedral with towers and a detailed green, yellow and white tiled roof near the pedestrian plaza, where thousands of people protested in 1989 starting the revolution.

After a lovely dinner high up on a terrace above the town we walked back along the canal; stopping to watch a dancing competition. All the participants were dressed in their regional costumes, dancing their traditional dances to a very energetic band. The evening was very warm and people were enjoying themselves.

 

Gallipoli – ultimate sacrifice.

2 July – 3 July

Bergama

Bergamo to Canakkale and Gallipoli

Travelling through Turkey at this time of year is perfect. Though the weather was hotter than expected the sensational ancient  sites,  towns green fields and wildflowers made up for it. On our way to Canakkale we stopped at Troy – again another 46 plus day. We had an excellent guide who took us over this vast  site and its detailed history of the siege and battles over Helen. The sight of the sea made a refreshing change and the swaying Cyprus and silvery sage green olive groves reminded us how close  to the Mediterranean.

Trojan horse at Troy
Troy has many layers which are very deep and old
View from Canakkale to Gallipoli

Arriving in Canakkale  we found ourselves at the finish line of a 3 day car rally,which was quite amusing. Our  hotel had seaviews across to the Dardanelles and the destination for the next day – Gallipoli.

Fields of sunflowers

 

Near our hotel we had the Trojan horse which featured in  Brad Pitt movie about the Trojan wars and Helen of Troy. The waterfront was alive with people enjoying the hot weather, food stalls and restaurants. We enjoyed a delicious seafood meal on a rooftop, watching the sunset and dolphins swimming by.

Brad’s Trojan horse

3 July

Gallipoli

Landing beaches at Gallipoli
Lone Pine
Poignant sculptures depicting heroic and self less acts on both sides abound at Gallipoli

An early morning pickup due to the heat had been arranged for a tour of the Gallipoli Peninsula and its many memorials. The ferry took us across to the Peninsula where we visited ANZAC cove, Lone Pine, the Nek, Shrapnel Valley to name a few and several cemeteries. All the sites through out this Peninsula are maintained in pristine condition, equally remembering all the people from both sides who sacrificed their lives in this futile endeavour. It was difficult to imagine such  peaceful waters and beaches witnessed so much death and horror. Truly an emotional visit and one every Australian should make.

What they faced…

This is our last day on the Asian side of the world and tomorrow we enter onto the European side of the Silk Road.

Our little MG Shamrock has been outstanding on this trip and coped most admirably with the heat – only thing I missed was some air conditioning – open windows just didn’t do it for me. Peter and I have shared the driving but he is doing most of it. The roads and drivers in Turkey have been great and we have loved this part of our Silk Road journey and would love to return in the near future to spend more time here.