31 December 2012

a highland christmas

On Friday 21st December I hoped on the overnight bus from London to Edinburgh.  Now I this sort of travel/accommodation isn't the best but I usually don't mind it here and there.  It's a cheap combo.  What I seriously did mind was getting sick on the way.  Nausea is awful.  Blurgh!  Thankfully there was an onboard toilet, I was able to catch a taxi and it was just a short distance and I had a sympathetic friend to welcome me.  Needless to say we didn't really do much on Saturday.  I spent it mostly sleeping, eating very little and sitting and chatting a while.  But I suppose if I was going to get sick (and apparently this was some winter bug that runs rampart annually here) this first day was the best option.

Sunday was a much more pleasant day.  It was nice to feel mostly human again.  Caroline and I walked into town and climbed Carlton Hill for a view of Edinburgh.  We had a yummy lunch at The Elephant House (the place where JK Rowling spent a lot of time writing some book series).  We then wandered briefly through the graveyard in the church behind the cafe where it's said she went name picking for her novel characters.  Found a couple.  We then met up with one of Caroline's friends and all went to this pokey little tea shanty called Anteaques.  A cosy place where we all felt we should have been in our frocks and bonnets.  We each ordered a different tea which came in a tea pot able to dish out 4-5 cups of the stuff.  We drank as much as we could over the hour or so we sat and chatted.  A lovely little rest spot we all enjoyed.  Caroline and I went off to do our Christmas grocery shop and head home to rest up for the big drive.  Bring on the highland Christmas! 

We picked up our rental car on Monday morning, loaded it up and set off north with the help of a sat nav.  We drove on up through Inverness and across the mountains into Ullapool and on a little further up to a little village called Achiltibuie.  I think it's somewhere near Whoop Whoop.  It was dark when we arrived after our 6hr or so journey.  It was really nice to drive again even though it is a bit tiring driving that far in one day.  It's been close to a year since I've been behind the wheel.  Caroline and I happily snooped about the cottage some friends of mine had let us borrow and we were delighted with each corner we poked into.  It's a lovely little place and cosily perfect for some Christmas indulgence.   With quite a collection of whisky on display Caroline decided we must sample them all.  We both agreed the first we sampled, the strongest, hottest one, was the best.  Though whisky is still not a drink I'd generally ask for.  For the most part, our time at the house was filled with relaxing by the open fire, crocheting and knitting, watching a whole assortment of dvds (movies and tv series) and of course eating.  Christmas day began with me waking early (job habit) and coming down stairs to fetch my present to myself from the nice stash I'd piled up under the decorations the night before.  Waiting inside was my snuggly new dressing gown.  I turned on my computer and skyped home to chat with family who were at the other end of Christmas day and every now and then opened another present.  I got some nice and unexpected things.  So blessed.  After a while Caroline emerged from a delightful sleep in and we gave our presents to each other.  We filled in our day with indulgent laziness.  The most active thing we did was to get our Christmas dinner cooking and scrub up for it.  Christmas dinner was delicious!  We began with mulled wine followed with our main course of roast duck with vegies and garlic bread and rounded off with Christmas pudding and custard.  A candlelit dinner for two. Ha ha.  It was a great day.  I've not much to complain about.  I saw no snow which was a little disappointing as I'd planned a northern journey dreaming of a white Christmas.  No luck.  But it's so beautiful in the highlands of Scotland that my disappointment was greatly dimmed.  And the lovely cottage and blissful relaxing made me happy.

Wednesday, Boxing Day, we decided to head out for the day.  We packed our lunch, got in the car and went further north.  We'd mapped out some destinations and Caroline had written down the names of the places only to discover her mobile hadn't saved them.  So we went running on research memories from the night before.  We accidently stopped by a view of the Summer Isles which was lovely on this clear morning.  Back on our planned route we managed to locate our major stop for the day.  We grabbed our bag and went walking, walking...along the 'bush' path that was sometimes a creek, on through the dry cold, yes, on some more until we reached our destination.  The Falls of Kirkaig. And with all the rain the river was gushing.  We climbed back up the path a little to have lunch in the sunshine before trotting on back to the car.  We then went up to Clachtoll beach where I stood for the first time on a lovely sandy beach, blue sky mostly, sun shining decked out in my snow gear to keep me warm.  He he he.  Back tracking a little...and then back tracking again to find the road we actually wanted to take (the sat nav is good when you set a route but not so useful to try use as a map), we came across our next stopping point with but minutes to spare really.  The ruins of Ardvreck Castle were sufficiently seen, photographed and climbed upon along with the viewing of the surrounding horizon and the foreground that filled the space between us before it got dark.  By the time we reached the house at about 4:30pm it was almost completely night time.  It was a great day for exploring as this was the clearest day we had.  The rest were overcast and wet.  Once home I changed into my pjs and dressing gown for an evening of the holiday theme.

Thursday we carried on the theme spending another day cosied up inside doing nothing much.  We did dress and break out for a while mid afternoon while there was still light in the sky.  We just wandered the street of Achiltibuie.  Caroline made a new friend, we paused to look at a ruined house (highland style with only the rock walls remaining) and laughed with surprise when some horses stuck their heads out the door, and when we'd had enough walking we went home again.  For another evening of the usual of course and consuming most of the leftovers.  Unfinished vegetarian haggis and neeps/tatties, unfinished Christmas pudd, mini pavlovas, chocolate... We also prepacked, tidied and cleaned up.  We were setting out early for the drive back to Edinburgh.

 With some detours and geographic locating challenges due to insufficient research, we managed to find Eilean Donan Castle and took on the wind and rain to see it.  It was really hard to get photos without raindrops on the lens and we actually had to work at not being blown away.  But we did see it and walk around it and then got back in the car feeling a bit drenched.  I think my jeans finally dried by the time we got back.  Driving through the Glencoe area was quite amazing even though we couldn't see much due to rain and low cloud.  There you get to drive right up close to the mountains as they hem the road that winds through the valley.  Back in Edinburgh we dropped off the car, exchanged photos and relaxed for one last evening together.  Saturday morning I got on the train to London.  It was nice to travel without having to stay focused on the road.  I knit most of the way home.

Not a white Christmas but still a jolly good one.  Next Christmas...with my family!!!  ^^

Click the pic for a closer squiz