Saturday, 27 October 2007

Half Term Frolics

Of course, the last line of the earlier entry was somewhat contrived, since by some quirk of fate I have spent the last week on holiday. We have taken advantage of half term week by visiting Grandma in the frozen north.

For Alice, that was as good as it got. A week wearing Grandma ragged. Poor old Grandma hasn't said as much, but I'll bet she breathes a sigh of relief when we finally leave, after breakfast, today. Highlights of the week, for her, included going to see the new Disney film, Ratatouille, visiting the museum in Liverpool, visiting her great auntie Margaret in St Helens and, top of the list, blowing most of her spending money on a pair of dodgy Heelies from Liverpool market. She's been on about getting Heelies (training shoes with wheels in them) for weeks, and at a minimum price of £50 she was set to wait until Christmas in order to pool her money. However she found a pair this week for £15 - not "official" ones, of course, but some copycat brand - and is totally thrilled. Personally, neither Jacqueline nor myself share this enthusiasm - the sooner they break the better - but this is what comes of Jacqueline's off-the-cuff remark that if Alice wanted Heelies, she'd have to pay for them herself.

For Jacqueline and I, we headed up to Scotland on Monday and spent a couple of nights in the charming Moffat (the Annandale Arms, which was very comfortable and didn't serve a bad meal either). Apart from sitting on the M6 for an hour and travelling only 1 mile, the journey up was straightforward enough, although since I do relatively little driving these days I have to say that the M6 made me distinctly uncomfortable. It really is a death trap (and in fact the reason for the motorway being blocked was an accident).

Anyway, once settled in Moffat, we spent a somewhat misty Tuesday exploring Dumfries and Galloway. We headed off first to see the Devil's Beef Tub, although the lack of visibility meant that we didn't see a great deal. On to Drumlanrig Castle, and although the castle itself was closed, we had an excellent walk in the forest. On to Dumfries for lunch, and we were amazed to see so many people - mostly school children - roaming around the centre with chip bag in hand. No wonder that health in Scotland is statistically quite poor. Really surprising, and really apart from a pleasant stroll by the river, was our overriding memory of Dumfries. After a (non-fried!) lunch, we headed south to the coast to visit Caerlaverock Castle, which was very enjoyable. Having promised me an afternoon tea, we continued on to Annan, and found a town which in my opinion was utterly charmless. We did, however, find a hotel which served a microwaved scone and butter. Admitting defeat, we headed back to base camp.

Wednesday started frosty and sunny, and we took fullest advantage of this by driving north-east out of Moffat, and climbing up to see the beautiful Grey Mare's Tail waterfall. Unfortunately Jacqueline wasn't up for climbing to Loch Skene, at the top of the waterfall, but we certainly went far enough to see some wonderful views - and all of this with blue skies and brilliant sunshine. On, then, to Langholm for lunch, travelling through some 30 miles of glens and forests, and barely another car in sight. No cars, but we did come across a Tibetan monastery along the way. Lovely, colourful and not a bad cup of tea! Langholm was another example to us of a dour Scottish town, and after a brief lunch we headed southward, past a place called Bewcastle where I holidayed as a child, and on to Hadrian's Wall. Excellent - both Jacqueline and I love this sort of thing.

With the light starting to fail, we then blitzed down the motorway a few miles for the highlight of our stay, at the Rampsbeck Country House hotel on Ullswater. A charming, laid-back atmosphere, a lovely room with a view of both the lake and the garden, topped off with a sumptuous four-course dinner (hare followed by turbot followed by a pear creation). I was up early the next day to take some photos, although our stint of bright weather was pretty much over and the surrounding hills shrouded in cloud. Alas, we were staying in this particular hotel for a single night, so had to check out once breakfast was finished. However, with high energy levels, we stopped the car just a couple of miles away to walk the Aira Force waterfall. Again I took both the new camera and its tripod, a decision which proved to be correct as I was able to take some excellent long-exposure shots of the playful water. A wonderful way to spend a couple of hours, very exhilarating.
On then, over the Kirkstone Pass (past the Kirkstone Inn, where as a fifteen-year-old I get very severely hung over on a range of single malts!) and into Windermere, for my first visit to England's largest lake. Packed with people, the town was nevertheless quite charming. Very much a tourist trap, with very little there of any substance, but pleasant nevertheless.

South, south, south - via a brief stop at the National Trust's Sizergh House (very dark interior, oak-panelled walls throughout, quite depressing!) and a more lengthy stop at Ikea in Warrington, we finally arrived back at Grandma's on Thursday night, to reports of Alice having played up.

We spent Friday at leisure, with a visit to Chester. Despite Alice's difficult behaviour, Chester was a surprisingly attractive place, and with exclusive boutiques such as Molton Brown and L'Occitane it is most definitely a city "on the up". So, after a broadly positive afternoon, we headed back for one last evening at Grandma's, and had a lovely (authentic, bought in Cumbria) supper of Cumberland Sausage and mashed potato.

So we're up to date. I'm hopeful that the M6 will be quieter today, but I really woundn't be surprised if it was another nightmare. Still, at least we'll get to see our lovely cats once again, and sleep in our own beds.

Ahhhhhhh, on reflection, there's no place like home.......

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