Quick Trip to Zurich


Zurich

I am writing this in Zurich. My college had a week with no lectures, set aside for reading and reflection, and it coincided rather nicely with Husband having to visit Zurich for work. I had a mountain of reading to do, plus an essay to finish writing, but we agreed that I could work in the room, and breaks would be spent wandering the city and eating meals that I hadn’t had to cook. An excellent plan (which I hoped would turn out better than the Devon ‘excellent plan’ of earlier!)

We arrived late Friday night. As the aeroplane neared Zurich, I could see the Alps, white with snow, shining in sunlight. We appeared to be flying over a sea with islands, but as we dropped, I realised the sea was cloud, and we dropped down, into the misty ‘water’ to the gloom of a city in dusk. The mountains were like a basin of cloud, and the sunlight was hidden from the land below.

As this was a ‘work trip’, our room was a rather lovely suite opposite a park in the city centre. We had the weekend to explore, so after a run round the park and breakfast in the hotel, we set off. (The breakfast was good, but there was a lot of sausage on offer, and I am pretty sure one of the fruit options was coleslaw.) The weather was crisp but dry, and gradually some of the clouds dispersed so we could almost see mountains beyond the city.

The city has the river Limmat flowing through it and we walked beside it to the large glacial lake, the Zűrichsee. The houses are very Germanic, with pointy roofs and shutters at the windows. It was all very pretty. It was also hideously expensive for British travellers, as the exchange rate is very bad at the moment. There were coffee shops with seats in a pretty square, huddled around patio heaters, all the seats lined with fur to keep people warm. But to pay £6 for a coffee was off-putting, so we enjoyed looking but kept walking. Luckily we had access to the ‘members lounge’ in the hotel, where there was a coffee machine for free.

As I am studying theology, I felt that I should visit the church where Zwingli preached. Who, you might ask, was Zwingli? Ulrich Zwingli (not a looker, but you wouldn’t expect him to be with a name like that) was quite a character in the 1500s. He was a priest in the large Grossműnster church, during a time when the church was ruled from Rome and was very powerful. Zwingli began to preach against some of the practices (which made him popular with the people, but not especially liked amongst his clerical peers). He decided that fasting in Lent was wrong, and (somewhat controversially I feel) attended a sausage supper during Lent.

He learnt Greek and Hebrew (so must be a good chap) and sought to find the correct translation to passages that he felt the church had corrupted. He preached against celibacy for priests (which I cannot help but feel sceptical about, as he had a wife at the time so I feel he was perhaps slightly biased). He also tried to rid the church of icons, and told people they shouldn’t worship saints. He was a contemporary of Luther (who is more famous) but they disagreed over the Eucharist, and were never friends. When there was a plague in Zurich, many people left the city but Zwingli stayed to help the sick. He survived the plague, but died during a battle (which I think he partly caused by speaking out against the church).

So, an interesting chap with some strong beliefs. It seems silly now, that he and Luther didn’t work together, simply because they disagreed over one point of doctrine. It seems to me that Christians still do this today, it can feel a little like a club, where if you don’t agree with all the rules some people don’t think you belong. Perhaps that’s why Jesus never tried to start a new religion, he showed people how to live and left them to copy.

We saw Zwingli’s statue, and went to the Grossműnster, which was very plain because he had removed all the icons and decorations. I blame him a little, for the ugliness of Baptist churches. I understand the sentiment, that we should be worshipping God not the building/statues/icons. But I do feel people go too far. Baptists seem to thrive on very ugly places in which to worship. I find it off-putting.

I will leave you with some photos of Zurich. Lovely clean city, mortgage your house and pop over for a weekend. You will need proof of two vaccines to enter any public building, and people here wear masks whenever they’re inside a public building. Other than that, it’s almost the same as pre-Covid times.

Hope your day is good, wherever you happen to be.

Thanks for reading.
Love, Anne x

*****

Thanks for reading.
anneethompson.com
Why not sign up to follow my blog?

Stonehaven and Dunnottar Castle


While staying at Thornton Castle, we visited Dunnottar Castle—which is a ruin and is my absolutely favourite castle in the whole world. We visited on a day full of sunshine and wind, and as we left the car park we could see a wind farm which looked as if it was floating above the horizon due to the mist. The castle was reached via steps which drop down from the cliff and then rise steeply to the spit of land housing the castle. The cliff edges are pitted, with large pebbles held by rock, which we were told is called ‘pudding rock.’ It is gradually eroding, so visit the castle quickly, before it tumbles into the sea.

The Perfect Ruined Castle

Dunnottar is a complete ruin, the skeleton of the castle reaching towards the sky. Some of the towers still have several storeys, some walls have almost completely disappeared. There are helpful information signs, and we saw the hole where William Wallace (Braveheart) is said to have attacked the British. The dark cavern of the old brewery is said to be haunted by a woman in green who is searching for her children (she has my sympathy, losing children in large buildings like castles/supermarkets is easily done). Seagull cries mingled with tourist’s comments: Mind your head, these guides are beautifully produced for the money, let’s sit here for a bit…

There was a lion’s den in the castle, dating back to Earl Marischal. Apparently his Coat of Arms had a lion, so he thought it would be a good idea to keep a real one in the castle. However, the roaring kept the Countess awake at night, so they got rid of it. Poor thing. The lion, not the Countess.

The surprises of the castle were the well, which is a large pool of fresh water right in the centre of the castle, and the public loos (also right in the centre, and very clean) and the sheer size of the place. It really is the best castle ever.

After visiting the castle, we walked along the cliffs. There is a great walk from Stonehaven, along the cliff top towards the castle. In a couple of places you can climb down to the beach.

Just outside the town, on a hill, is a war memorial. After the first world war, over 200 men from Stonehaven never came home. That would have been a huge percentage of the young men. The memorial looks like a ruined Greek temple, to represent the lives ruined by the war. It also fits very well with the view of the castle, and is very in keeping with the atmosphere of the area. As we walked past, there were several people walking up to look at the memorial, and people running with a dog in tow—it is clearly a dominant feature of the town.

Stonehaven is a fishing town, with a big harbour and some interesting sculptures along the sea front. It is also the home of the deep-fried mars bar, so I insisted that we try it. It was pretty revolting! I think our order was unexpected as it wasn’t tourist season, and so I am guessing that they simply dipped a mars bar into the batter they were using for fish and then fried it in the same vat of oil. It tasted very fishy anyway. Imagine biting into a piece of deep-fried fish, and then finding a melted mars bar inside. The flavours clashed horribly—maybe it would be better with fresh batter, more of a mars bar pancake perhaps.

Tasting a deep-fried mars bar.

Although I cannot recommend the mars bar, Stonehaven is worth a visit. They were busy building sea defences when we were there, so it was quite noisy, but I expect it’s rather lovely most of the time. We found a great bakers to buy lunch from, and then we sat, watching the boats bob on the water and listening to the gulls. A lovely way to finish our holiday.

Thank you for reading about our road trip through Scotland. There are so many places that we didn’t have time to visit, and so many that I hope to return to one day. To be honest, I’m not sure why we spend so much time in Italy and France, when Scotland is easily as beautiful. I guess you just have to be lucky with the weather (and the midges, which were a nuisance when they appeared). But if you have never been, go soon…before the rest of the world realises what a treasure it is.

Take care.
Love, Anne x

Thanks for reading.
Why not sign up to follow my blog?
anneethompson.com
*****

Don’t forget, my travel book, The sarcastic Mother’s Holiday Diary, is available from an Amazon near you. It’s a fun read, and makes a great gift.

The Sarcastic Mother's Holiday Diary
Now is an excellent time to read my travel book. Happy adventures from around the world. Available from Amazon.
*****

Thornton Castle


More Castles

Does anywhere in the world do castles like Scotland? They are everywhere—even ‘normal’ houses tend to include the odd turret. Fabulous. While we drove around Scotland, we would turn a corner, and there would be a castle, sitting atop a hill or rising from the mist in a loch. I would shout ‘Stop!’ and we would park somewhere and look. Often we knew a photo would never manage to capture the scene: those turrets reaching to the sky, the walls stark against the water, mist swirling around the base. I am not much interested in the history of tribal wars or the dates of battles, but castles make you remember stories of princesses and sea monsters and dragons. I love castles, especially ruined ones.

We left Balintore Castle and drove north, on the snow road, to Balmoral Castle. We thought it would be interesting to see the castle built by the royals. There was a car park, with a £3 charge, and a short walk over a bridge spanning the River Dee to the gift shop and entrance gate. That’s it. The grounds were closed, and from the road we couldn’t see anything—not even a turret. The £3 charge was basically to enter the gift shop!

This is all we saw of Balmoral Castle!

Instead, we went to Ballatar (where the Queen pops to the Co-op when she runs out of teabags—there’s even a bus stop right outside Balmoral, which is handy for her). There is the ‘royal station’ where the Queen’s train used to arrive, but it’s not used today and the rails have been removed, which sort of fitted with our experience of the whole day.

Of course, I still had no idea where our final location was going to be. I was hoping it would be less cold than Balintore Castle—and it was. Husband had booked another castle for us to stay in, and this one was very comfy. We arrived at Thornton Castle about 4pm, and to my relief, this one was not derelict.

Thornton Castle–a great place to stay.

Our host welcomed us, and gave us a tour of the grounds from the battlements. I pretended to be completely comfortable with walking along a narrow walkway 4 storeys high with only a low parapet between me and certain death. Our host pointed to a round tower, which dated from about 1200’s, and a square tower with dated from about 1500’s, and the remainder of the house which was added much later. Thornton Castle has been in the same family for many generations, and is full of family paintings and artefacts (and not so many stuffed animals as the last castle!)

Our Airbnb was in the square tower, and it was magnificent. We had a beautiful bedroom with a little adjoining sitting room. Above was another bedroom (which we didn’t need) and a bathroom, and there was a kettle and fridge so we could make our own drinks. We also had use of the billiard room, which was very grand, but I preferred our little sitting room. The rooms were reached by a spiral staircase (a bit dangerous if very tired or drunk). Breakfast was included in the price, and this was served in the dining room.

Breakfast was amazing, and deserves its own paragraph. We were shown into the dining room, where the long table was set with two places opposite each other. The sideboard was laid with cereals, and juices, and fresh fruit, bowls of yogurt, bread and a toaster. Our host offered us a range of cooked food, so Husband had a full Scottish breakfast each day, but I was happy with yogurt and fruit and cereal. We had a big pot of good coffee (very important) and I sat there, feeling like I was living in Downton Abbey, and loving it. It was such a treat. Our host was very friendly. It was slightly odd being waited on by the owner of the castle, but I managed to cope! It was perfect.

Such fun!

Thornton Castle is near the coast, so we had some lovely meals in little fishing villages. We also visited Dunnottar Castle, but I will tell you about that tomorrow.

Thanks for reading.
Take care.
Love, Anne x

If you fancy staying at Thornton Castle, the link is here:

Thank you for reading.
Why not sign up to follow my blog?
anneethompson.com
*****

Balintore Castle


When we left Inverlochy Castle Hotel, I wondered what Husband had planned next. Nothing, I thought, as spectacular as Inverlochy. He didn’t speak much as we drove, and I could see he was slightly tense. I wondered what was coming.

We left the main roads, and followed single-carriage lanes through the hills, passing rivers, and farms, and cattle. There were a lot of rabbits, and families of partridges, and then, perched on a hilltop, there was a ruined castle.

“Is that our next Airbnb?” I joked.
“Yep!” said Husband.

Oh wow!

The entrance gates were a complete ruin, with a tree growing out the top of the lodgehouse. We had been told to use the back entrance, as it was less rugged, but even so I was glad of the 4-wheel drive. Rabbits (so many rabbits) leaped out of the way (and often back into our way, so we drove very slowly) until we arrived at the entrance to the castle. Round turrets stood stark against the sky, tumbled down stone littered the garden, empty windows hid the dark rooms. Husband checked the instructions, collected the key, and we entered.

We were staying in the kitchen wing. A series of rooms, that had once been the kitchen, dairy, scullery, and meat room, had been renovated, a modern kitchen fitted, furniture installed. There were stuffed animal heads on the wall, and coat-hooks made from deer feet. The floor was stone, and cold, and the ceilings were very high. We spoke in whispers as we looked around. There was something slightly spooky about it all, though I’m not sure why. We chose the least scary room for our bedroom and unloaded our cases. Then we left for dinner, and warmth, and something familiar.

We ate at Armstrongs, a restaurant next to a caravan site (quite a different atmosphere). The food was excellent. We then returned to the castle and settled in for the night. It was actually very comfy. Well, less uncomfortable than I had feared.

The following day, we were given a tour of the whole castle by the owner—Dr David (I can’t remember his last name). Balintore Castle has been bought (14 years ago) by an IT doctor who has until recently been living in Oxford while he renovates the castle. When he bought it, the roof was missing and some of the walls. The previous owner (a Lady) had lived there until she died, at which point the castle (in a state of disrepair) reverted to the adjoining estate. The lady who inherited it had hated the old lady, and she wanted to blow up the castle (and had even set the explosives) when the authorities stopped her because the castle was built along a fault line and they worried an explosion might trigger an earthquake! Instead the castle was left to go to ruin, plundered for building materials, at the mercy of the weather.

The Scottish authorities realised a cultural treasure was going to waste, and placed a compulsory purchase order on the castle, which is how the present owner managed to buy it. It is undoubtedly a labour of love, and many years and millions of pounds, have been spent restoring the castle to its former glory (there is a way to go yet). As I listened to Dr David, I found his enthusiasm contagious.

It was also really interesting to see the derelict rooms and imagine how they would have been in the past. The great hall, with the huge bay window (now boarded up) and the vaulted ceiling (currently lying in a heap on the floor). Some of the turrets had been restored to their original purpose—ensuite toilets for the bedrooms! They had rounded wooden toilet seats that fitted the rounded walls of the turret, and all the waste would have fallen easily away from the castle. Not the fairytale image I had imagined.

The castle was not terribly old, built in 1860 in the ‘Scottish Baronial’ style (like Balmoral, the Queen’s Scottish castle). The architect was William Burn, who was quite brilliant and designed things like a water tower on a nearby mountain that was higher than even the highest turret, so the water pressure was excellent throughout. The kitchen wing was built where it would remain cool (this was particularly effective—our rooms were freezing!)

It was such an amazing experience to stay in the castle. I never managed to shake off the slightly spooky feeling (a great disincentive to pop to the loo in the night, I never fancied those cold corridors in the dark). The scariest thing in reality was probably a mouse, but it was the sort of place where you imagined things. I am so glad we did it. What fun!

We left after a couple of days, and I wondered where we were staying for the last few days of our amazing tour of Scotland. I felt that wherever it was, it couldn’t possibly be as amazing as the places we had already visited. Yet again, I was wrong…

Thank you for reading and sharing our adventure.
Take care.
Love, Anne x

If you fancy staying in a real castle, the website is here:

https://www.balintorecastle.com/

Inverlochy Castle Hotel


Two Scottish Castles

When we left the little studio flat near Applecross, I wondered what Husband had planned next. We had seen the coast near Glasgow, and enjoyed the canal at Crinan, seen the beauty of Glencoe, and stayed on the islands of Mull and Skye. I doubted that anything in the next part of our holiday could possibly compare. But I was wrong…

On the way to our next location, we passed Eilean Donan castle. I like castles, and Husband had booked us tickets. The castle was like something from a storybook, standing on the shores of a loch.

Eilean Donan Castle
(Named after a ship, not a woman!)

Guides told us a little of the castle’s history. Eilean Donan was a ship (not a woman, as I had assumed!) The castle was well maintained, with some rooms furnished to show how they would have been in the past. The guide told us we could see three sea lochs from the window, which excited Husband, who likes canals and heard her say “three sea locks!” Our Scottish still needs some work. The castle was pretty, but again was spoilt by too many tourists. It was hard to imagine how it would have been when walking in a line of people and having to sanitise our hands at the entrance to every room. (I used so many different sanitisers—because the guides insisted we use it—that they started to react with each other and my hands were very itchy!)

We left the castle and drove to…another castle! Husband had booked a few nights at Inverlochy Castle. Wow! This is a hotel fit for royalty. In fact, Queen Victoria stayed here during her tour of Scotland. What a treat!

Inverlochy Castle
What a treat!

I changed into a skirt so I could swoosh when I walked, and we explored the grounds. They have a walled garden, and a lake with a rowing boat (Husband was keen to row across the lake, but I was too busy swooshing my skirt and pretending to be important.)

Dinner (6 courses) was in a pretty dining room, and there were drinks first in the sitting room, where there was a fire in the hearth and views across the lawn to the mountains. I don’t usually drink much, and half a bottle of red wine after a G&T was quite a shock to the system! We went back to our room via the rather fine billiards room, but I sat in a big leather chair and wondered if I would make it up the rest of the stairs, so a game of billiards was never going to happen!

Breakfast was an almost silent meal, with silver cutlery and floral china and bit of a headache from the night before. We then walked to the ruins of the old Inverlochy castle. But the road was very busy, and I wanted to just be in our posh hotel and enjoy the luxury of it all.

We had afternoon tea in the lounge, and then went out (somewhere cheaper!) for our evening meal. Breakfast the next day was lovely, and then we packed our bags and left. As we crunched down the gravel drive, I wondered where we were going next. Surely, I thought, it cannot be as extraordinary as staying in this hotel. But I was wrong…

Thank you for reading and sharing our travels.

Take care.
Love, Anne x

Thanks for reading.
Why not sign up to follow my blog?
anneethompson.com

More Scotland


Wester Ross, Scotland

The drive from Skye has everything that is the essence of Scotland: Christmas trees, heather, bracken, lochs and sea and streams, rowan trees, grassy bogs, craggy rocks—all framed by mountains. This is the edge of the Highlands, where long-horned cattle wander across beaches and sheep climb hillocks, and midges swarm round tourists. This is Scotland, and I love it. 

We had rented a studio flat with breakfast near Applecross, and we drove there from Portree on Skye. The road (there seems to be only one) was sometimes single-carriage, sharing space with a railway track that ran between us and a loch (or it might have been the sea—my most-asked question was is this the sea or a lake? and sometimes it was only possible to know if we looked at a map).

The mountains were crossed by the same road, twisting round hair-pin bends, rising above the valley, the occasional (too occasional in my view) barrier to stop cars plummeting down the mountain. Then down the other side, the sheer sides of rock blasted by dynamite long ago on one side, slopes of pink heather blowing in the breeze on the other.

Applecross was little more than a road junction, with a few buildings. We followed the road along the coast, past houses that seemed to have been randomly splattered along the cliff edge, until we reached Spindrift, the flat attached to the owner’s house.

Inside, I walked to the window and stopped. We faced the sea, the sun was shining, and across the water was the island of Rona, with the blue shadows of mountains looming beyond. While I looked, a sheep wandered past the window.

We scrambled down a path (made by sheep I’m guessing) to the beach. There was the tumbled remains of an ancient stone house, and pebbles down to the sea. We walked along, jumping from giant pebble to giant pebble, sometimes detouring to keep our balance when a stone wobbled. After about 200 metres, we arrived at the stone archway, carved by the sea, reaching over a pathway of rocks. We walked into the cold shadow beneath the arch, then out into the sunshine next to the waves. A solitary space.

When we returned to the house, I found my binoculars and scanned the water for whales or dolphins or seals. The waves part and black skin flashes in the sun before gliding back out of sight. I have no idea of perspective, no idea if I am seeing otters or whales, but I am certainly seeing something and that’s exciting enough.

Searching the sea for signs of life. The occasional sheep would wander past the window and stare in at me.

Later, we strolled along the cliff top. Something big and black was in the water—a submarine! We watched it drift away. There were Highland cattle wandering the cliffs, their sharp horns curled like Viking hats. One had a calf, creamy and shaggy and unbelievably cute. Some sheep had settled next to one of the many passing place signs, looking for all the world like they were waiting for a bus. Midges floated around us, but there was a breeze, so we only saw a few and they were only a bother when we stopped walking to look at the view.

This place is perfect, the most beautiful place I have ever visited. The peace is a tangible thing, there are miles in every direction of unspoilt countryside.

When we drove to Applecross for dinner, we could see the jagged mountains of Skye across the water. It is almost more beautiful from here than it was when we stayed there. We ate in The Walled Garden restaurant, where the food wasn’t as nice as the menu, but it was clean and friendly and set in the walled garden of a big house, so the outlook was pretty. I chatted to a couple on the next table, we discussed the beauty of Scotland and the annoyance of midges, and the woman gave me her midge repellent (Smidge) because it was nearly empty and she had plenty more, and because she was very kind.

On the way back to the flat we saw a herd of deer on the hillside, they raised their antlers as we passed and stared back at us, deciding whether to run. Beautiful.

The owner of the property was waiting when we returned, and she gave us warm bread for breakfast tomorrow. She had filled the fridge with salmon and ham and cheese, pots of yogurt and fresh milk. On the shelf was butter and marmalade, sachets of porridge and a bowl of eggs. Tomorrow we will eat salmon and scrambled eggs, with a pot of coffee. The perfection will continue.

Thanks for reading. More of my travels through Scotland in future blogs. If you want to stay at Spindrift, it’s a studio-flat, with a tiny kitchen area (sink, fridge, microwave) a modern bathroom, and a view to die for. Breakfast is provided. (spindrift-applecross.co.uk) We booked it through Airbnb.

Take care. Love, Anne x

Thanks for reading

Why not sign up to follow my blog?

anneethompson.com

Another ‘Most Beautiful Place in the World’. There seem to be a lot!


Skye

I thought Skye was the most beautiful place in the whole world. Perhaps it is. It was sunny while we were there, with a fresh breeze that blew away the midges, and we walked in the valley between mountains and watched an eagle (a real eagle for goodness sake!) swooping. I have shared my photo, but brace yourself—I’m not the photographer my sister is.

We stayed at Sligachan Hotel for one night, and we had a room in a tower, which was pretty exciting as I have never stayed in a tower before. We then drove to Portree, through more amazing countryside, and stayed for a few days in a little Airbnb on the hill. It wasn’t very fancy, though I was delighted to find it had a washing machine after 2 weeks on the road. It also had a view down to the harbour, and across the hills to the mountains we had walked through. Really, you cannot get enough of looking at those mountains.

The harbour at Portree is pretty, with painted houses and hills. There’s a lump of land, called The Lump, which today is a viewpoint and in the past was where they used to hang people. Nice place to die.

We drove to the Quiraing one day, which is an area of interesting geology because the earth has sort of slipped off the rocks. We didn’t really see any of that, as the weather was bad (or possibly ‘normal’ for Scotland) and it was misty. There were clouds of midges, but luckily we had bought some clever pop-up hats with midge nets. It was actually quite fun to wear them (and better than having my face covered in midges dying in the Avon oil I had bought). We also saw a dead sheep (but that’s probably not a great incentive to visit).

There were some lovely walks from Portree, with footpaths next to the coast, past fish farms. We looked across the water to islands, searched for otters (didn’t see any) and always those mountains, standing tall in the background. Too beautiful to describe.

There is a waterfall on Skye where the water falls into pools made by the rocks. The Fairy Pools. They are lovely, but when we visited there were so many people it was spoilt. We slogged up the hill feeling hot and avoiding people, then walked back to the car. Better to visit in the winter I expect.

Fairy Pools

Our best dinners were at Dulse and Brose. We shared a wonderful fish platter, complete with pickled herrings and heaps of crab meat. We ate so much good fish in Scotland—worth visiting for that alone.

When we left Skye I promised myself that one day I would return. It was such a beautiful place. I wondered where we were going next, and whether it could possibly be as lovely as Skye. Well actually yes, it was! I will tell you about it in my next blog.

Thank you for reading.

Take care.
Love, Anne x

Scotland has lots of Rowan Trees
Thanks for reading. Why not sign up to follow my blog?
anneethompson.com

The Isle of Mull


The Isle of Mull

We caught the ferry from Oban to Mull. It was very efficient; these ferries cross the water regularly and so although August brings more tourists, the service ran to time. We arrived too early to check into the hotel, so we drove the long way round the island. Mull is beautiful. I had thought Glencoe was the most beautiful place in the world, now I wasn’t so sure.

The sun glinted from the sea at every corner, and tiny islands grew from the surface. Birds swooped, and sea otters dived in the lochs. Actually, we never saw a sea otter, but the rest is true. I spent many peaceful hours searching the waters and not seeing an otter.

The island has about three roads. Only three. They are single track, with passing places and signs telling tourists to use the passing places so the locals can pass. I wasn’t sure the locals especially like tourists. We paused in a passing place—a big one that fitted three cars—and a passing local stopped just so he could shout at us and tell us not to use the passing place to take photos. We hadn’t left the car, and there was plenty of room for several cars to pass—like I said, I’m not sure that locals like tourists.

We drove to Tobermory. If you ever watched the children’s show Balamory then you will recognise Tobermory. Same place, but the inhabitants are way less bouncy. We were staying at the Tobermory Hotel (though they wouldn’t let us check in until the correct time—like I said, I’m not sure that locals like tourists). We wandered around the town, with its painted houses and pretty harbour. There were a few gift shops, but everything was hideously expensive. When we were allowed to check in at the hotel, we were shown to a lovely little room, with a view over the harbour. The bathroom window had no blinds, and only the bottom half was frosted, so I hope none of the many people in the harbour ever looked up. Nice view for us though.

The best thing about the hotel (for me) was the breakfasts. Lots of fresh fruit, good coffee, a selection of hot food cooked to order. Husband ate the full Scottish breakfast, I had the porridge. This was very good porridge (I had eaten some pretty rough porridge so far on our trip). Probably not the reason most people visit the island for, but worth bearing in mind if you’re planning a trip.

One day we visited the little Tobermory distillery. The tours were all cancelled (due to Covid) but they offered us some whisky to taste (note: whiskey from Ireland, whisky from Scotland). One tasted much like other whiskies I have tasted, the other was like liquid charcoal. I am not a fan of whisky. Husband bought a bottle of the charcoal variety and raved about how lovely and smoky it was. (I was very pleased, as this unexpected extravagant purchase paved the way for me to buy all sorts of lovely things!)

Our best meal was at Cafe Fish, which is right on the harbour, with boats arriving to unload fresh seafood while we ate. Great place for a good fish dinner.

Another day we drove to Fionphort and caught a ferry to Iona Island. This was very small and peaceful and is where St. Columba arrived in 563 and founded an abbey. This was the first time Christianity arrived in the UK, and was not very long after the Christian Bible was compiled, so it is a significant place. It also has seagulls and grassy hills and ruins and a few cottages clustered near the water. The modern-day Abbey is used for ecumenical retreats, because the monks all left in the 1500’s. The island was nice, but I didn’t particularly rave over it. Maybe there were too many tourists. My favourite part was the Highland cattle that had wandered onto the beach.

We left Tobermory and caught the ferry to Skye. I thought the Isle of Mull was the most beautiful place in the world. I was wrong…

Thank you for reading about our road trip through Scotland. I will tell you more in my other blogs. We visited several islands, and even stayed in a castle. Such an adventure!

Take care.
Love, Anne x

Thanks for reading.
Why not sign up to follow my blog?
anneethompson.com

Onich


More stories from our Scottish road trip.

Lodge on the Loch

After staying in Crinan, we drove to an hotel in Onich, which overlooks Loch Linnhe. This was the first time (of many) that I asked: “Is this the sea?” because it was hard to know. It joins the sea, but is a lake (or loch, as it’s in Scotland).

We stayed at Lodge on the Loch. This is a hotel that has seen better days, but the rooms were large and clean, and the staff were friendly (there just weren’t enough of them). If they buy some beds that don’t sag in the middle, and employ a few more people, then it could be lovely again because the position is wonderful. Our room overlooked the loch, and we were a short drive from Glencoe (possibly the most beautiful place in the world) and Glen Etive (also beautiful and with fewer people).

In August, as well as beauty, Scotland has midges. Our first walk in Glencoe, once we had managed to find a parking place, we were beset with midges whenever we stopped walking. Tiny insects that float around—later in our travels we had one day when the air was thick with them. I had bought some ‘Skin-so-Soft’ from Avon, which was rumoured to protect against midges. In my experience, it didn’t keep them away, they simply died in the oil, so my skin was covered in oil and drowned midges. Not a highlight.

Not much could detract from the beauty of Glencoe though—not midges, nor the swarms of other tourists who were there. Mountains reaching the clouds, green valleys, waterfalls and rivers. Hard to think of a more beautiful place.

The following day we drove to Glen Etive. More beauty, with mountains, forests, waterfalls. We watched some canoes swooshing down the bubbling river, walked to a waterfall, enjoyed the peace.

Lodge on the Loch is near Ben Nevis, so I persuaded Husband (who had a headache) that we should stroll up the mountain for a short while. The day was sunny and hot, and we arrived as most people were leaving. The mountain is well-signed, with a clear path (if you choose the easy route) and a cafe at the base. We chatted to a man who had started the climb that morning, and it had taken about 8 hours to the peak and back. He was drinking his fifth can of lemonade.

We joined the flow of people on the path, and walked up for about an hour. It was easy walking, with no scary edges. But in the sunshine, it was very hot. I was wearing a thick dress, and switched it for Husband’s cotton shirt because it was simply too hot to walk. After an hour, we came to a point where the path grew steeper, and although going up would be fine, I knew it would terrify me coming down (plus it was only meant to be a stroll) so we turned back. Probably I cannot claim to have climbed Ben Nevis (not sure a quarter of it counts) but nice to have done it.

We ate in a lovely pub called Laroch in Ballachulish. Ballachulish was a tiny community that grew up around a slate mine. There were information signs, and we saw the flooded mines, and white worker-houses and imagined a time when their hobnailed boots would have rattled through the village on their way to the mine. The food in Laroch was brilliant—worth a visit if you’re in the area.

We left the hotel at 7 the next morning. My back was painful due to saggy bed, so I wasn’t sure the day would go well. We were due to catch a ferry from Oban to the Isle of Mull. I had thought Glencoe was the most beautiful place on earth, and that I had seen the best of Scotland. I was wrong, so very very wrong…

Thanks for reading. I will post more blogs of our travels through Scotland in the next few weeks. It was all planned as a surprise, and we stayed in some amazing places (including castles) so I hope you enjoy sharing the adventure with me.

Take care.
Love, Anne x

Thanks for reading.
Why not sign up to follow my blog?
anneethompson.com

Crinan


The Crinan Hotel

The Crinan Hotel is two hours north of Glasgow. There’s not much phone signal, so Google maps gets confused and places the hotel round the corner, whist it actually has prime position overlooking Loch Crinan off the sound of Jura (look at a map of Scotland, and it’s on the left, about half-way up).

We arrived early afternoon, and followed the winding lane past whitewashed cottages down to the canal, then up to the bend in the road—which is basically the whole of Crinan in a single sentence. There were signs on the hotel door requesting that guests wore facemasks in the hotel, and lots of other signs and photographs and paintings, all muddled together in a visual feast of nostalgia. You knew instantly that this hotel was personal to someone, and they loved it.

We checked in, and dragged our cases into the tiny lift (which closely resembled an upturned freezer). Our room was on the second floor, and the metal key was attached to a large, too-big-for-a-handbag wooden fish. The room was lovely, with a large window overlooking the loch. There was wooden furniture, and uneven floors, and a single vase with fresh flowers. In the wardrobe was a tray set with tea things and a tiny kettle, with a note telling us to ask reception for fresh milk. Everything looked clean, cosy, and slightly dated. I loved it. Very Miss Marple. All we needed was a body in the lobby and we would be in the quintessential English novel.

There was no safe in the room, but it all felt very secure so we left our stuff and wandered along the tow path. Husband loves canals, and enthused happily about how many locks would be needed for the boats to climb the hill behind the hotel, and why they had built the entrance to the 9-mile canal in Crinan, and not further round the coast (later investigations showed the water was a giant sandbank, so the canal needed to provide deep water from Crinan onwards). It was easily ignored as cheery background noise while I absorbed the water birds, and reflections on the loch, and the absolute peace of the area.

We ate dinner in Tayvallich (quite an adventure, but for another blog). Spent the evening trying to find Duntrune Castle, which the room information said was opposite the hotel, but all I could see through the binoculars was a big house. Went to bed. Slept well.

The following morning started at 6.30 when the people in the next room began to stomp across the creaky floorboards and turned on the noisy fan in their bathroom. The night had been silent though, so no complaints. We got up and ran along the towpath. Good shower (always excellent when an older hotel installs a decent bathroom) and then we went down for breakfast.

The dining room has bay windows overlooking the loch, and it was simply beautiful. Everything was very hushed, with thick carpets and heavy curtains, damask napkins and silver coffee pots. The waitress brought us juice and good strong coffee and took our order. I opted for porridge and fruit, Husband went the less healthy route—though neither of us were tempted by the kippers. There were a few other guests, but it all felt very proper, with tiny china bowls of butter and marmalade. It wasn’t a room for loud noises.

The hotel room had details of Duntrune Castle, which was fought over by various clans in the past. At one point, a piper from clan A remained after clan B had taken over, and when the way was clear, he played his pipes to alert clan A that they should attack. Clan B were somewhat miffed, so cut off his hands. He died (not unexpected). The ghost of the handless piper is said to haunt the grounds, or so the legend goes. Potentially not true. However, when recent owners were renovating the castle, the builders dug up a skeleton which had both hands cut off.

Now, I love a good story, so we had to visit. It’s privately owned, so we weren’t sure how near we could get, but we set off anyway. It was an adventure. Drove across moors, the only car on narrow roads. Wound our way to the castle, and the end of a private road. There are no footpaths in Scotland—instead they have a ‘right to roam’ law which we interpreted as anyone can walk wherever they want to. We parked on a verge, and walked down the road. No one stopped us. We walked right up to the gates of the castle. These gates were the inspiration for the Skyfall house in the James Bond film. The castle is still occupied, and we decided the ‘right to roam’ probably didn’t include walking actually into someone’s house. Was pretty cool though.

Beyond the castle is a garden, with an honesty box for donations to ActionAid and RNLI. We went inside, and they are very beautiful, a mix of wild and clever planting and pretty statues. Worth a visit (good Instagram-photo ops if you like that sort of thing!)

The hotel doesn’t have sandwiches, and even Hungry Husband felt that three cooked meals a day might be pushing it. There’s a little coffee shop (possibly linked to the hotel but in its own whitewashed old building). We wandered down and ordered filled rolls. My BLT was freshly cooked, with good fresh lettuce and tomato—but no mayo or butter. Perhaps you have to specify separately that you want those in Scotland. Or perhaps the coffee shop is linked to the hotel and they saw how much we ate for breakfast!

Thanks for reading. I will post further blogs (in a random order, because that is how I wrote them) so you can share our road trip through Scotland. Hope you enjoy them.

Take care, Love, Anne x