Coming home...

Well, at the time of writing there are two weeks to go, all being well. Two weeks until we relocate from the South East of England, to the country I call home: Scotland.

It's not something I've written about much - at all even - even though it's been in the works a good while. And the back story is long and winding. So, for now, I'll spare all that. This is a project, and it will unfold, and there will be plenty time for all that.

So, the grand plan is to build our own house, for which the wheels are in motion; and while that happens we are moving to temporary rental accommodation. We secured that earlier this month after looking for a suitable property for almost 6 months. I can tell you, I jumped on it! It's only about 5 miles from where we plan to build, so it will be handy as our build unfolds.

temporary home while our new one is built 

temporary home while our new one is built 

Our chosen destination is just inside the border of Scotland, a few miles from Gretna Green. This is Dumfries and Galloway, near the Solway firth.  Those that know me might wonder why we didn't venture as far as my childhood homeland in the Highlands; but in the end, practicalities around transport, access to my work etc. had to be part of the balance.  

Nonetheless,  it's a quiet rural spot with good access to transport links, Glasgow, Edinburgh and the North of England. (Carlisle, The Lake District, Newcastle, Manchester even). In fact Dumfries and Galloway is a bit of an unsung gem of Scotland - the countryside is unspoilt and rolling, the Solway coast edges the region with some decent beaches, and life is fairly rural. This is just what we want  for baba as he grows up. 

I'm certain we'll adapt to this way of life very easily - we are not really city folk :) and we both love Scotland. And we'll certainly relish being in striking distance of Edinburgh - our favourite city - as well as within striking distance of our relatives. The clean air and soft water, the wide open spaces and quiet surroundings, the cooler weather! All part of what we consider an improvement in quality of life. 

Let the adventure begin!  

 

When is a holiday not a holiday?

We've now returned from our Scottish holiday, taking in 5 days of the Edinburgh Fringe and a trip to the Highlands. It's been a wonderful time away, my nails have grown substantially, and despite the food and whisky I only seem to have put on a pound in weight. 

Like many "holidays" it turned out to be rather busy and many of the things I thought I would do in my downtime (a lot of writing, for example) just didn't get done. 

Here's a run down of some of the things we got up to:

 

  • We saw about a dozen shows, not including the freebies and impromptu acts in streets and bars. This included big names such as Rich Hall, Sarah Millican, Ed Byrne and Dave Gorman (who was brilliant) as well as less well-known acts such as James Acaster and Andrew Lawrence (also exceptional); of course, not forgetting our favourite magicians Barry and Stuart
  • We frequented The Whiski Rooms - a wonderful bar, bistro and whisky shop, providing exceptional food and great live Scottish Music. 
  • We woke up at 5.45am on our first day thanks to Veolia coming to empty the bins at the travelodge. Well done folks. 
  • We walked between 20 and 30 miles over the week, as tracked by DeviceLocator and Google Latitude on my iPhone. That helped keep the weight down.
  • We avoided blisters by wearing state of the art Rohan footwear. 
  • We fed a Squirrel in Princes Street gardens and watched it burying his food. 
  • We discovered bumblebees going nuts over Oregano and Marjoram. 
  • We drove 1200 miles. 
  • We had a spa day at Bannatynes in Edinburgh to try and recover. It really helped!
  • I processed a few photos while on the move, but most still have to be done :) 
  • We did some "baby sitting" with my niece Chloe, who was wonderful entertainment. 
  • We gave an impromptu talk about bumblebees to a nursery of twelve 3 and 4 year olds. We managed to succesfully keep them entertained for an hour and got a wonderful thankyou card made by them all.
  • We did a circular tour round the back of Loch Ness to soak up the scenery and make the best of a window in the weather. 
  • I had a meeting with Cafe Beag who agreed to display and sell my scottish photos
  • Roy Bridge post office also agreed to stock and sell my photos
  • I had a very interesting and productive meeting with Me On My Wall canvas company who have agreed to licensing some of my images for their Highland Collection of canvases. This is a really exciting complement to my Scottish prints, which will see them on display in some prime locations.  

 

Here's a mock of up what's coming:

example canvas

Not a moment was wasted - my last meeting took me to within 15 minutes of my planned leaving time for the journey home and I still had to pack! Most of my photo processing, blogging and writing all had to go on the back burner and  didn't get done. But as you can see, it was a very productive and busy time nonetheless, and I was really delighted to be making progress with getting the photography "out there". All part of the long term Scottish plan. 

 

Driving routes from England to Scotland (Cambridge to Inverness)

I'm often asked about driving to Scotland - since I do the journey myself pretty often. There are fewer main roads in Scotland which simplifies the choices, but there are still options for distance versus scenery. My main recommendations are presented below, based on a journey from Cambridge to Inverness - which raises the question: do I go East or West?

Option 1: Head West

 

The most scenic route in my opinion (for the scottish part) is the west - through GLENCOE- i.e. A82... 

My recommended way to take that from is:  (524 miles)

A1 north -> A66 at scotch corner to cut west -> M6/M74 north -> M8 round glasgow -> Erskine bridge -> (A82) Glencoe -> Fort William -> Inverness

Route Map

At the scottish end this is the more interesting route as it goes through Glencoe and past Loch Ness. The English end is basically just motoroway.

Option 2: A9 East Scotland

The M6 is the main motorway up the west of the country - and surprisingly it costs very little in extra miles to cut across to the west then back again. 

Via M6 / A9 (510 Miles)

Route Map

Google suggests this route - which is basically simplest, but also arguably most boring.. The English and lowland Scotland stretch is the same as option 1, but then it takes the A9 (i.e. the eastern side of the highlands) up to Inverness, so is more direct... saves about 15 miles - (amazingly you'd think it would be a lot more.. )

Option 3: Stay entirely East

499 miles

The natural inclination might be to stay East for the whole journey and head towards Edinburgh. Instead of doing that all the way up the A1, it is shorter and quicker and more scenic to cut across country from Newcastle. You CAN go through Northumberland National park which is a very scenic, but quite twisty route... so I tend to skirt round the edge on this route through COLDSTREAM:

Route Map

As you can see - this misses out Glencoe on the west and uses the A9 - i.e. stays East for the whole journey. Consequently it is the shortest route, but still by less than 30 miles...   this is the route I would take if pressed for time and wanting "just to get there" without being too bothered about scenery..

Option 4: The tourist route

535 miles

This is option is if you really want to go past Edinburgh and also do the scenic route through glencoe...  so overall, it probably is THE most scenic route..

This is longest - but picks up Edinburgh, Glencoe and Loch Ness

Route Map

As you can see, timewise and distance wise there is not a whole load in it..

[photos: Nik Sargent]