Onwards to Scotland

Found my husband’s travel diary from a trip in 1998. My comments, added now, are in the brackets.

To make our travel budget go further we took a little camping stove and made hot chocolates and boiled the occasional egg along the way. It was fun and a lot more memorable than stopping at a cafe. Besides cafes were hard to come by in late 90s England.

Monday April 6, 1998, York

Had our first full English breakfast. First of many. Very nice, good way to start the day. Cereal juice, coffee, toast, bacon, eggs, tomato sausages and mushrooms. Then we went to see the York Minster. Unbelievable, I’ve never seen anything like it – totally worth seeing. So much detail, very high. It took over 250 years to build. Biggest religious structure in the UK. We took some photos and bought postcards.

Michael having his mind blown by the Uk’s largest ecclesiastical building.

Drove to Berwick-upon-Tweed, near Holy Island. Three-hour drive. Passed Newcastle – very ugly industrial city. (Now bear in mind this was 1998, so I am sure that some huge inroads have been made to make poor old Newcastle a lovelier place to behold.) Big power plants and cement monstrosities like on “The Simpsons” – the nuclear power plants everywhere, even in some areas near where we drove through which were quite nice. Manufacturing plants every kind of ugly industrial thing you could think of. Happy to avoid it!

Went through Tyne tunnel under the river. Could smell exhaust smoke halfway through. (Our tiny car filled up with acrid smoke from the exhaust and we were stuck in traffic. Gee I hope the powers-that-be have done something about that mess!)

Looked at B&B that had a Newfoundland dog – big! (You might see a pattern forming here. Dogs were and still are, with the addition of any other animal really, an important feature in choosing accommodation for us.) We ended up staying in a mansion in the countryside. Couldn’t ask for better accommodation. Only 30 pounds per night. Looked like it was straight out of Richie Rich comic book. (This cracks me up every time I read it.) It had three levels with rooms everywhere to get lost in and was very plush. (The place was very traditionally decorated with acres of gardens and a huge yew out the back. The bedroom was very comfortable and had a sink in the corner, but the bathroom was down the hall. I can’t imagine us now staying somewhere with a separate bathroom. We’re so spoiled!)

We could see the sea and surf looking one way and mountains with snow caps looking the other. This is the first time I’ve ever seen snow. (That would be a magical place to live.)

Lots of sheep everywhere. We went and had a look at the beach. Pretty nice, but cold. (We got to the beach via a narrow road that crossed a railway line. On the drive back to our accommodation just as we crossed the tracks, a RAF jet went over and broke the sound barrier. We thought we had been hit by a train! Our friend Nic, who we will meet in Edinburgh says this is a hazard when camping out the hills. You think you are miles from everywhere and a jet goes over and knocks you on yer bum!)

Went for a drive into town (Berwick-upon-Tweed.) Had greasy English fish and chips. It was okay. Berwick-upon-Tweed is a big holiday destination. Has rows and rows of (static) caravans in a park right near the beach. To be avoided in summertime, I think unless you like lots of people. (In Australia the caravan parks now have lovely cabins but back then it was a very down-market accommodation option, to stay in an “on-site van” at a caravan park. We were amazed at the sheer scale of the van parks in the UK and later in Europe. Even a couple of the Disneyland Paris resorts are glammed up static caravans.)

Tuesday April 7, 1998, Berwick-upon-Tweed

Had another amazing English breakfast. Saw bunnies in a field. We went to Holy Island. Very cool. Lots of ruins and interesting. Things Christine’s dad raved about this place as they had been there six months earlier. The island can only be reached on low tide as road becomes submerged. Couldn’t go through the castle as it wasn’t open until later in the day and we had to beat the tide back.

Drove on to Scotland. Went the coastal route to Edinburgh. (I think we still laugh about this today, but as soon as Michael saw the word Edinburgh written on the road signs he started pronouncing a hard “g” on the end so it came out as “Edinburg.” He couldn’t help it and had to make a concerted effort to say it right, although we couldn’t say it the way the Scots do!)

Saw an amazing castle on the coast with a rocky island in the distance as coming round the hill. (Tantallon Castle. It was a spectacular site but there was nowhere to stop on the side of the road to see it.) Saw a huge mansion with rock walls around it for kilometres. Went in search of B&B’s in Edinburgh and got lost in the city for two hours. (So many one-way streets! If there is one thing I hate doing it’s the “run-in” where you pop in the front door to see if they have a room available. This is why we now book everything ahead. In Covid times you have to do this anyway, but even before that I declared I would never do another “run-in”. There is something to be said for spontaneity, but if you spend half your day running around looking for accommodation, you might as well be at home!)

Found a nice B&B on the outskirts and caught the bus into town. Amazing buildings and castles everywhere. We caught up with our friend Nicole. She showed us around a bit. We’ll explore further tomorrow. And we’ll see Edinburgh Castle and meet up with Nicole again.

Wednesday April 8, Edinburgh

Had another English breakfast, Yum. We keep discussing thoughts on our own B&B in Australia. Very possible and highly successful with the right research, which I’m sure we will do. (We did not. We came home and had a baby and bought a couple of carpet cleaning businesses. C’est la vie!)

Another truly cold day. Looking forward to seeing the sun one day. It’s very windy. I’m wearing a singlet shirt, thermal tops, skivvy, jacket, scarf, beanie gloves and thermal pants. On the bottom I have jeans, boots, thick socks and I’m still bloody freezing. Everyone else seems to be cold as well. (We remarked on this as we walked around the castle. Even the staff looked miserable. Surely, we said, they could do something about that! Give them heated booths to stand in? I guess the heating bill would have gone through the roof.)

Booked our ferry tickets to Belfast. Went to Edinburgh Castle, huge place, great views. Saw the crown jewels, lots of people around. Worth the visit. Was surprised when they hold the tattoo in the carpark of the castle. (We walked all over the place and eventually asked a very cold looking guide about it. She pointed back at the carpark. I bet she thought we were a pair of eejits.)

At festival time apparently you can’t move because of all the people, but not to be missed! (So far this is the 24th year we have missed it. Perhaps next year?) We met up with Nicole and her partner. Went for a short walk around and took some photos. Had a nice lunch at the same pub as yesterday. Great shops around. (We went to a few vintage shops but Michael reacts to the dust in those places.) Felt like we could comfortably spend a couple more days here (But we’d already booked those ferry tickets, spontaneity copped another kick in the backside.) Very nice city. But we will come back in summer next time. (We did, in 2006.) Spectacular buildings, apartments everywhere. We went inside a big church. (St Giles’ Cathedral. Beautiful church building on the Royal Mile, which has played an important role in the religious history of Scotland.) You can tell it was so old – so much detail (Unlike this travel diary, Michael!) Nowhere near as big as York Minster.

Spent a couple of hours looking through the shops. One particular shop had like small beach huts made into grandfather clock. It was not in a beach Hut design, more plain colors but could easily be turned into beach theme. This shop had lots of originals. Best shop scene by far. Lots of clocks, mirrors, carved sculptures and presented really well. (At this stage we had a giftware business and sold Aussie made giftware all along the east coast of Australia in airport shops and duty-free shops. We were always on the lookout for new ideas.)

It got cold and wet and windy. In the end we stopped for another hot chocolate with fresh cream then called it a day. Left city on the bus about 5:00 PM and went home for a warm early night. Bought hot chips across the road. Had a shower and snuggled up for an early night. The B&B had beautiful big yellow Labrador (Dog!) and was playing with him, and he took my gloves and wouldn’t give them back. We got a cheap price for the B&B as the mother went to London for the day and the son wasn’t supposed to let anyone stay there.

(We are both Queenslanders. Where I grew up there are basically 2 seasons; Hot and Wet and Cool and Dry. Michael is from Far North Queensland and they had 2 seasons as well. Hot and Wet, and Warm and Dry. We were not ready for the cold! We visited a castle one day, and we spotted a patch of sunlight on the ground so we huddled on that little patch. Someone walked past and asked if we were Australian.

It was lovely to go to Holy Island, or Lindisfarne. I grew up in the church but I am not a religious person. I do love history and art and the religious structures, art, and relics fascinate a lot of people. Basically, the church had a lot of power and money for the last 2000 years, so they were the ones who could commission the stunning buildings and artworks. In addition to that, in Europe, most if not all old religious buildings are built on sites that were sacred long before the Christians were around. The sacred wells and groves were taken over by the invading missionaries and converted to Christian sites.

One thing I find really interesting is finding Pagan imagery within the walls and windows of these ancient cathedrals. In a later installment, I’ll talk about the labyrinth at Chartres.)