Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Robert the Bruce - Bannockburn

Photo: Robert the Bruce statue at Bannockburn, site of the Battle of Bannockburn, 1314.

Day 12: Sterling to Edinburgh

After haggis and black pudding for breakfast it was off to Bannockburn to see the heritage centre, commemorating the battle at Bannock Burn between Robert the Bruce and Kind Edward II in 1314. After a quick geocache or two we then headed toward Edinburgh via the Forth Bridge. We let the lady who lives in my phone navigate us to the B&B we had prebooked on Downloading the UK (and other) maps to my phone/GPS has been brilliant.
We then caught a bus into Edinburgh – about 10 minutes away. We walked up to the Castle and had a good look around, then down the Royal Mile with all its tourist shops and dinner at the Hard Rock Café. Another day over. The days are getting by so quickly.

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Blair Castle

Photo: Blair Castle

Day 11: Inverness to Stirling via Blair Atholl

Castle Day. First up was BlairCastle at Blair Atholl, the home of the Stewarts and later the Murrays. This was a fantastically well preserved castle, first started in the 13th century and added too over the next 400 years or so. It was a great first castle ‘with inards’ (private joke). From there we continued south to Stirling.
William Wallace’s Monument, housing Wallace’s sword was one of the places Lach had been looking forward to. It didn’t disappoint. Next stop was Stirling Castle – our first Royal Castle. Just amazing the history of these places. I still haven’t worked out who was who exactly, but I’m now motivated enough to work it out one day when I have a bit of time.
Time. Day’s are flying by. We left Stirling Castle at close to 6pm, and made our way to Airth Castle Hotel, east of Stirling. This was prebooked on so we didn’t really know what to expect. Turns out to be a huge resort style hotel in the grounds of Airth Castle. As I type, the kids are swimming. Swimming in Scotland at 8:55pm!

Monday, 29 August 2011

Castle Urquhart

Photo: Castle Urquhart on the shores of Loch Ness. No monster today.

Day 10: Loch Lomond, Glencoe, Loch Lochie, Loch Ness, Culloden, Inverness.

A day of natural beauty and history. A drive through the highlands taking in Glencoe, Ben Nevis (in cloud so we didn’t do the chair to the top) and the Lochs. Spectacular scenery – not not as ‘wilderness’ as I was expecting. We always felt like civilization was close by. Makes me appreciate the true wilderness on places near home like the Shoalhaven Gorge. I’m sure if we had more time and did some walking in the Scottish highlands I would change my tune!
Next stop was Culloden, the site of the 1746 battle between Jacobite Scottish highlanders and the British establishment. Thousands of lives were lost in a battle that lasted less than an hour. Again Lachlan took in all the details.
Dinner and B&B in Inverness – plus a geocache, the northernmost find we’ll make.
A few observations about UK so far….
1.       Where are we from? People have suggested New Zealand, South Africa, Australia (only once so far!) and Liverpool!
2.       Taps. We haven’t had the same type of shower tap in any 2 places. Each day is a new adventure working out how to turn the shower on and get it to the right temperature.
3.       Parking. ARRHHH. Why couldn’t 12th century town planners foresee the need for more parking in their towns?

Sunday, 28 August 2011

Hunterston House

Photo: Hunterston House - the ancestral home of the Hunter clan.

Day 9: Chester to Tarbet via Hunterston

An early start with breakfast on the road to get to Scotland. Rather than heading directly north we decided to detour via Ayeshire in the southwest of Scotland to check out Hunterston, the ancestral home of the Hunter’s. Hunterston consists of a sea port, a nuclear power station and ‘Hunterston House’ – or should I say ‘Our House’. Pretty impressive. Makes me want to trace a bit more family history to find out if it could be ‘Our House’. A few things suggest it probably is. Firstly, there was a yacht marina just up the road. Maybe sailing really is in my blood? Secondly, in nearby Largs, they served ‘chips with cheese’ – very Hunterish.
We then continued on to the Viking town of Largs and visited ‘Vikingar’, an information centre dedicated to the Battle of Largs, fought here in 1263 between the Scots and the Norwegian Vikings. The Scots won and the Vikings never troubled them again. We found out here about the Hunterson Broach, an 8th century Celtic broach that had Norse inscriptions on it, suggesting  intermarriage between Vikings and Celts. It was found in the grounds of Hunterston House in the 19th century. It is now housed in Scottish National Museum in Edinburgh. That’s something to watch out for once we get there.
We ended the day at Tarbet, on the shore of Loch Lomond, in an old hotel with its maze of rooms.

Saturday, 27 August 2011

Men of Harlich

Photo - view down to the Halich station from Harlich Castle. Looks like toy town.

Day 8: Cardiff to Chester via Wales

First thing on the agenda today was to meet Molekilby, a Welsh geocacher who had been in posesion of one of TheHunterGatherers geocoins for several months. Originally we set the mission of this coin to travel to Scotland. Molekilby picked it up in Edinburgh and has held it ever since. We had arranged to meet at a Cardiff Bay geocache, where he would return the coin to us. I met him this morning as planned and over a coffee discussed geocaching, travel and life in general. I gave him an Australian flag geocoin and he gave me a Welsh geocoin to drop in Australia when I return home.
We then made our way up through Wales. The beauty of Wales far surpases anything I expected. The narrow winding roads and the many, many small villages with parked cars making the road almost impassable make for slow travel, but the villages are just beautiful and the countryside spectacular.
The two highlights of Wales were Harlech castle – a 12 century castle and our first castle visit (we drove past Cardiff Castle but didn’t go in) and the slate mining village of Blaenau Ffestiniog. Actually all the Welsh villages were lovely, especially in the north of Wales in the Snowdonia region, but these Welsh people really need to buy a few vowels, and then learn how to use them properly. Seriously, I’ve got no idea how any of the Welsh place names would be pronounced –but the sound of the Welsh people speaking is lovely. Once we were away from Cardiff they were speaking in Welsh everywhere we went. All the road signs are in Welsh (I’ll have to look up what the language is really called). Even the ATM had a choice of languages.
In the one day we saw the south, west and north coasts of Wales, including seeing the massive wind farms in the Irish Sea. What a great place to put a wind farm!
After leaving Wales we headed for Chester. By luck we managed to drive through the main street as we drive around looking for potential accommodation. We found a pub, Chester Bells,  about a block from the city centre with available rooms. We found a parking spot (difficult in any of these cities), dropped our bags and had a wander around town. Wow. This is one of the most beautiful city centres I’ve seen. The Tudor buildings are so well preserved. Spanish tapas for dinner (served by Manuel’s younger brother), then a bit more of a look around town. Tomorrow: Scotland.

Friday, 26 August 2011


Day 7: Coventry to Cardiff
We left Jim’s in pouring rain, heading SW towards Cardiff. We weren’t able to arrange to see Pat – he’s in Texas at the moment – but still wanted to see south Wales. Also, I had arranged to meet with a fellow geocacher who had been caring for one of my travelers for quite some time.
Arriving in Wales across the Severn Bridge (wow!) we headed a little bit north into ‘The Valleys’. We ate lunch in a café in Newbridge, listening to the wonderful accents. We then headed south to Cardiff. What a beautiful city. Accommodation is in an old B&B, Penrhys, just out of the city centre. The building has been kept as original, dating back well over 100years. Apparently it was owned bythe owner of a coal mine. By dinner time it was pouring again, so we headed out by car and found ‘Robin Hood’, an old pub serving the best food we’ve come across at the cheapest prices we’ve seen.

Thursday, 25 August 2011

Bath time

Day 6: Bath, Cotswolds, Coventry
Arrived at the Roman Baths in Bath about 9.30. Great audio tour of an astonishing place. Lach listened to every piece of info. We then walked up to ‘The Circus’ and ‘The Royal Circuit’. These were just like you see in the movies.
Drive through the Cotswolds, then on to Jim’s to meet his sisters and families. We had a great night putting faces to the names on Christmas cards for the last 17 or so years, and of course having a beer or two with Jim.

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Salisbury Cathedral

Day 5: Portsmouth, Salisbury, Stonehenge, Lacock
After a huge English breakfast at our B&B in Southsea (Portsmouth), we headed off to the Portsmouth Historic Waterfront. Our first port of call was Nelson’s ‘Victory’. Wow. Unbelievable. We quickly checked out most of the other exhibits around the dock before heading off to Salisbury & Salisbury Cathedral. The kids rated this as there No. 1 church ever.
Next stop, Stonehenge. It’s hard to get your mind around this place. The why and how is just too much to comprehend.
We then had some difficulty finding accommodation. The plan was to head toward Bath and stay somewhere nearby. Bradford on Avon was the original plan, but after a few laps of the town (we were too late for the Tourist office!) we continued on. But what an awesome town. I wish we had time to go back and explore. We ended up in a village called Melksham. One place we tried had no family rooms available, so called around several others to try to find us something. Nothing available anywhere, so they added beds to one of their double rooms. Solved. They also suggested we check out Lacock, a 13th century village, entirely  preserved. Part of the Harry potter movies were filmed there. We had dinner in an old pub. A really old pub. Then, finally, internet access and a my first chance to update the blog.

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Himalaya and Tibetan plataeu

Day 4: Hong Kong to Portsmouth
3.45 alarm for a 4.30 transfer to the airport. After a coffee and muffin we managed to leave Hong Kong with just $HK4 (about 50c) from the $7500 we exchanged at home. After a long day that included a 12 hour flight, a 2 hour drive, lots of waiting in various queues and a 9 hour time zone change, we worked out we had been on the go for just over 25 hours.
After arriving in Portsmouth we found our guest house, went for a short walk and had dinner at a pub in Southsea. Tired now. Goodnight.

Monday, 22 August 2011

It's a Small World

Day 3: Hong Kong Disneyland
An early start, making our way to Disneyland on the MTR – HK’s metro train system. Wow. So efficient, clean and cheap. The 45 minute, 3 train journey cost $HK56 (approx $AU7 for the whole family). We arrived at Disneyland before opening time, so had to wait a while to get in. As we were walking down Main St USA we were approached by Giselle, a Disney employee who was assigned the task of selecting the ‘Grand Marshalls’ for the day. She asked our names and where we were from, and asked us to return to City Hall at 12.15. We had no idea what we were in for.
We spent the morning exploring Tomorrowland (Space Mountain first up with only 5 minute wait), ‘It’s a Small World’ and a quick look through Fantasyland.
Back to City Hall to meet Giselle. Were were ushered into a private room, given complimentary mouse ears, personally embroidered with our names and a special certificate and Giselle explained. We were to ride on the Marshall truck at the lead of the grand parade, waving to the crowd. We were give big Mickey hands and off we went. What an experience! Talking to Giselle later we discovered that this was the first time she had chosen the Marshall’s. She is a student, studying tourism, living in the New Territories of northern Hong Kong. It takes her 2 hours each way to travel to work.
There were not many westerners at Disneyland. Giselle explained to us that most of the people there were from mainland China – not many Hong Kong people go to Disneyland. With so few westerners there, many of the Chinese found us fascinating. We were asked several times if they could take a photo of our kids with their kids. Many of the smaller children would stare at us while queuing or just as we walked by. At one time we stopped to put on sunscreen (it was seriously hot – maybe 35-40 and extreme humidity). Everyone that passed was looking. Some people even stopped to look or looked back over their shoulder after they passed.
In the afternoon we did Adventure land and a few shows – Lion King and ‘The Golden Mickey’. Both shows were just fantastic. By now it was beginning to get dark, so we just had to stay to see the place lit up. A few souvenirs, then back to the hotel. Big, hot day – but very memorable. Overall Hong Kong has been fantastic. Very friendly people, very organised and safe.