10 Native Scottish Animals And Where To Find Them An English Idiot Abroad Part 1 – Travels in Scotland

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An English Idiot Abroad Part 1 – Travels in Scotland

Introduction, Leaving Rawdon & Status Quo

I think you don’t really appreciate people or places until you get away from them. This is very indicative of the way I feel after deciding to up the trees and travel the world. This is something I’ve always dreamed of, been saving up for, but haven’t yet had the balls to go ahead and do. The fact that I’ve been made redundant after seventeen years of taking the easy option of sticking to the status quo is giving the ass it needs. But quite scary as well!

I went on several walks around north Leeds last summer and was amazed at how little time it took to get from my front door to the countryside. The River Aire is 15 minutes’ drive and 10 minutes’ drive, where one can enjoy panoramic views of Leeds and Ferrybridge power station to the south and east, and Ilkley Moor and the surrounding moors to the north and west.

The sunsets here were always sensational. I will miss living on a hillside in Yorkshire – but the world awaits!

Hawick & Great Bike Racer

I started my foray into the beautiful country north of the border with a visit to my old mate Chris. He lives in Hawick, which is a first-hand Stop in a slap bang in the middle of the Scottish border, and Chris likes to drink a lot of beer as I do!

Hawick’s most famous boy of the past years was Jimmie Guthrie. Born there in 1897 he started out as a dispatch rider in France during the great war and joined the Hawick Motorcycle Club on his return. They entered his first TT in 1923 and the rest is history, as they say.

This statue was held in his honor at Wilton Lodge Park by the river in Hawick next to the museum where there is an exhibition showing some of his racing bikes and trophies. There is a list of his major wins in the TT, Northern Island road races and countless 350 and 500cc GP`s and six titles in Europe – almost 50 wins in all! Tragically, he collapsed while driving the European GP in Germany at the age of 40. The funeral procession in Hawick stretched for three miles. There are other memorials to Jimmie Guthrie: the Guthrie Stone at the Sachsenring, where he died, and another at the road site, Ige, where he retired in his last high TT.

Another great motorcyclist from Hawick, and one close to my heart, is Steve Hislop. Sadness received from his family and all bike racing fans in the plane crash accident, which is still not fully investigated in the eyes of many people. Steve is one of the fastest superbike riders in the world. When he was on the pace and riding the mountain machine he was unbeatable.

He won 11 Isle of Man TT titles, 3 North West 200s and Macau GPs, Ulster GP, Le Mans and Bol D’Or 24 hour races and was a British 250cc champion and British Superbike champion twice. In 1989 Steve became the first rider to top 120 mph with a TT lap of 121.34. This record was beaten three years later by WSB champion Carl Fogarty, but he would still come second to Hislop who rode the Norton Rotary in that race. Foggy’s record stood for 8 years until it was broken by David Jefferies in 2000.

Steve was truly a great person who I still miss on the racetrack.

A life-size bronze statue stands in a park in Hawick, and a similar one has been made in the Isle of Man.

Kingussie and Dunnet Head

My only fixed destination in Scotland is the northernmost point of mainland Britain, Dunnet Head which lies between John O’Groats and Thurso. This is simply because I have never been further north than the Isle of Skye before.

I decided it was time to stop when about half way through Thurso from Hawick and ended up in a nice little town on the A86 called Kingussie. It is close to Aviemore and therefore a popular place to stay for winter sports fans.

My philosophy on finding good, affordable accommodation is simple – find a local pub that’s open, go in and have a pint or shot of local beer (if possible) and, once you have been there for a while, try to start a conversation with one of the locals or a member of the staff, or the landlord, and ask where you can find the kind of room you need.

This method has never failed me, it beats tourist information and even the internet hands down. In Kingussie I went for a pint at the Star Hotel on the High Street and got chatting to a local customer who directed me past the more expensive hotels to the Silverfjord Hotel on Ruthven Road near the train station. As well as the restaurant and bar, there is a small public bar in the hotel with very friendly locals where I enjoyed a couple of local brews. The room is decent, big, with en suite and TV for the princely sum of 27.50 Sterling. I have actually eaten at the Star Hotel and the food was excellent.

The next day was nice and sunny – perfect for the 200 or so mile drive I had up the country. What a beautiful scene it was also. The Cromarty Firth Bridge is the highlight of the journey, over a mile long with stopping points and fantastic views both inland and out to sea and, as you can see (on my blog), the weather can be good in Scotland in December!

The drive to Thurso was very long and, as I’m not an early riser anyway and we’re talking about a British Winter where it gets dark during the day, evening was approaching as I drove along the desert to Dunnet Head. Other signs of life of any kind are the Highland cattle grazing on the land.

There is a lighthouse on the rocks there which is about 105 meters above the sea, yet in the stormy weather, stones are still falling on the rocks!

The previous night in Kingussie I had been advised to stay in Wick instead of the more obvious choice of Thurso. Using the reliable “Johnny” method of finding accommodation, I found somewhere to park near the harbor and then went into the nearest pub – Sinclairs on The Shore. It was a little on the rough side, but the staff was friendly and sent me to a cheap B & B overlooking the sea. Unfortunately, the place was full but the lady there directed me to another place just above. This is a true British Bed and Breakfast because it’s just a room in someone’s house – feels a bit strange but I’m on a budget and I just want to get something to eat and drink a lot! I ended up having a special “curry and drink” at the JD Wetherspoon pub in Market Square. I don’t usually go for chain pub food, but this was really good (although they are prepared surprisingly quickly…). After drinking more beer, I went into a pub in the early hours where, as is almost everywhere in Scotland, I was warmly welcomed as a stranger. I asked if there was a good local malt and was given an enormous amount which would have put a Spanish barman to shame! They don’t let me put water or ice in it though. After two of these the next thing I remember was waking up in someone’s house (my B&B) – hopefully I didn’t make too much noise when I got back in!

After forcing the obligatory breakfast the next day I headed south towards another permanent destination which was Ballachullish where my mum had spent two summers in the 1940’s as a schoolgirl with my uncle Ken and aunt Maureen, as she was working there as a scientist. , I think at the plastic place in Kinlochleven. I also plan to park somewhere else, maybe Loch Lomond on the way back to England. As I drove to the north-east coast I decided to stop for a walk in an area called Skelbo Wood near Durnoch which is close to the A9. There is a path that runs down to the Skelbo Burn with some fine old trees as well as more common river grasses planted by the Scottish Forestry Commission to be their successors. Of course, the only living creatures I saw were the animals carved out of wood by the locals who marked the road! After following the path around the tree, I came to an unmarked intersection. Thinking I knew roughly what the direction of my car was I decided to turn left at the intersection. This must have been the wrong way as I got completely lost and ended up drifting off the track to take a “short cut” through the trees in the direction I thought the car park would be. Eventually I came to a dead end, so I had to retrace my steps to get back to the track I came from. It was very bad underfoot with big clumps of grass – sometimes with trees that had already fallen under, so I had to be very careful as breaking my ankle “off the beaten path” like this could have been very stupid – especially as I have no signal on my mobile. Boy, was I happy when I finally found my car!

Drumnadrochit & Glencoe

After riding longer than expected at Skelbo and driving several miles towards Loch Leven, I decided it would be a good idea to stop when I got to Loch Ness. This is the longest and (I think) deepest loch in Scotland, so a good place to explore. While on the north side of the loch I was in the village of Drumnadrochit which looked OK – apart from the funny, Flintstones-like, “Nessie” signs for the monster tours! The big hotels seemed a little expensive near the street in the center though, and none of the bars there were open in the middle of the day, so I drove around for a while looking for an open bar. . After looking down a few ways I saw a sign on the side of an intersection for a sports bar. Good old Johnny’s road is still good as I asked the locals in the forest for a hotel there, and a local guy drove ahead of me to show me the way to the nearby hotel – and that what you see is where you are. It will not find itself on its own. The Benleva Hotel is a great place to stay and is cheap at 25 pounds sterling for a nice room en suite with a full Scottish breakfast or cereals and, of course, porridge.

The bar stocks the best real ales from the mountains, often with at least one Isle of Skye brew which is a lovely piece. Benleva was voted CAMRA Highlands & Islands Pub of the Year 2005, for the second time in three years. The owners started having an annual beer festival a few years ago and it’s now the biggest in the Highlands, boasting over 50 cask conditioned ales and ciders last year. The next one is 22 to 30 September 2006 and I hope to be there if I’m in the UK then. The bar meals are delicious as well, ranging from traditional Scots fayre to more fancy items. He received a very friendly welcome from the hotel owners Allan, Steve and James. Brothers Allan and Steve are right behind the bar and James, the Chef, creating culinary delights in the kitchen. I enjoyed my stay here more than any other hotel I can remember.

Drumnadrochit has some great walks nearby and I ended up at the top of the rock where legend says the Viking prince Monie retreated after a nearby battle. It was supposed to be the remains of the iron head wall too, but they must have been too subtle for me! There are three ‘good’ pubs in the village including The Benleva and they are known locally as “The Triangle”. The other two are Smiddy Bar and Blarmor Sports Bar. The Sports Bar generally opens later and has a disco on weekends. At this disco I met an Australian boy named Paul who works in Edinburgh. He was partying at Loch Ness for the holiday with his mates and we had a good laugh – G’day Mondzy!

I actually saw the Loch Ness Monster while driving along the loch one day, but it had just gone back under the water by the time I could stop and take a picture – darn! I enjoyed my time here so much that I decided to stay for the rest of my Scotland trip and not stop at Ballachullish or at Loch Lomond as I had planned to do. I drove past the invisible Ben Nevis (hidden in the clouds for 9 to 10 days at this time of year) and saw where Mum used to stay in Ballachullish and parked up in Kinlochleven to go for a walk in the mountain The walk starts on part of the West Highland Way and quickly climbs up the north side of Loch Leven.

I had to stop a few times along the way to keep the old “tika” because I wasn’t very fit – and look what happened to Robin Cook! After climbing about 2,000 feet I saw ‘Am Bodach’ in front rising to 1,005 meters. I decided at this point that the distance I had already ridden was enough!

Next article – part 1 of my travels around Spain

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