UK & Scotland Trip (October)

Due to the fact that Guy had to go to NZ when our friends from Scotland came to Florence, we decided to take the time to go and see them - and at the same time, visit the grandkids once more before we headed back to Australia.
We flew to Stansted in England, hired a car and drove over to Little Paxton for the weekend with Liam, Jo, Alba & Yarran and also caught up with Jo's parents (Jennifer & John).
On the Saturday, we went to lunch at a local pub called "The Mermaid" in Ellington (north of St Neots) that is owned and run by a Michelin trained chef - the food was pretty good. The highlight was a dessert called 'The Forest Floor" that Jo & Liam ordered. I just had to get a photo of this, even though I hate food photography!
"The Forest Floor"
Lots of chocolate over some kind of thin biscuit pastry to look like a log, thin wispy wafer type twigs, coloured jellies and more chocolate.

On the Saturday night, we went to see the movie "The Martian".
This was a bonus for us as Lyn & I had just finished reading the book (before the movie was released) and wanted to see it, but it was showing in Florence while we are in the UK.
The timing was perfect.
What an awesome movie and it would not have the same impact if we had had to watch it on a small screen.

The kids are growing like weeds and it was great to see them. We saw them in July when we visited last, but it was amazing to see how much they have changed, especially as Yarran is now on the verge of walking.

On the Sunday, we went for a walk to the park (and the play-ground for Alba) and then on to the larger reserve in behind Little Paxton where the old tar pits used to be.

It was at the end of the blackberry season but there were still plenty to pick and Alba kept Guy pretty busy picking them for her to eat!

There Is A Big Blackberry Over Here, Opa!
Alba Loves Puddles!
On the Monday, we flew from Stansted up to Edinburgh and hired a car to drive over to Strontian where Michelle & James own the local pub (which also has accommodation).
Strontian is very close to Fort William in the Western Highlands. You can drive to it, via Fort William, around the loch (taking about an hour and a half), or you can catch a car ferry (taking about 25 minutes). We took the ferry!
The Corran Ferry
An Old Abandoned Fishing Boat Close To The Ferry
It Has Seen Better Days!
The hotel is right on the edge of Loch Sunart in the town of Strontian. The town lends it name to the element Strontium which was discovered and then mined behind the town in 1790.

Some Of The Locals
The views from the hotel are stunning and the clouds of the trees and countryside this time of the year were amazing - all golds, reds and browns and the afternoon light was fantastic.
Low-Tide On Loch Sunart (From The Hotel Dining Room)
Another View Of The Loch
The Dining Room At "The Strontian Hotel"
James is a mad-keen fisherman and loves to get out on the loch to fish, but the hotel keeps him so busy that he does not have a lot of time to get out.
Having guests is always a good excuse to go fishing, so he and I went out one afternoon for a couple of hours.
It was great out on the loch, cold and windy, but sunny and it was most enjoyable taking all the surroundings in.
We were trolling for salmon and brown trout, but we didn't have any success - apart from the two minnows that I caught.

Err... A Bit Small!
Michelle & James suggested that we spend a day visiting the Isle Of Mull where James spent quite a few years.
To get there, we drove out to the town of Lochaline where we caught a car ferry to Fishnish on the island.
One the way to Lochaline, we stopped at a restored castle near a town called Ardtornish.
Michelle & James were married in the castle and we were invited, but could not attend, so we wanted so see what we had missed out on.
The Castle Of Ardtornish 
The River Running Through The Castle Grounds
The Castle And Some Of The Garden
 The ferry runs regularly between the mainland and Mull and takes about 20 minutes.
The Ferry To Mull (Our Car Was The Fiat 500 At The Back)
Most of the roads on the island are single track, which means that they are one-lane roads with passing bays. They are not great, but the news are fantastic as you wind around the coast.
The island is pretty big, so James suggested that we do a clockwise circuit of the northern half of the island to get a taste of what Mull is like.
We got off the ferry and headed to the town of Salen where we turned left and headed to the other side of the island. From here we followed Loch Na Keal out to the west and then north to Calgary Bay, continued on to Dervaig and Tobermory before turning south, heading back to Salen and the return ferry.
It was a great day-trip.
Loch Na Keal
The Road On The Side Of The Loch
Island Of Eorsa
Looking Down The Loch Towards The Open Sea
Typical Coastline On Mull
The best beach on the island is Calgary Bay  where there is nice sand and a gentle sloping beach.
It is quite protected and is very popular with locals and tourists alike, although the water is really cold.
Calgary Bay
Just in behind the beach was a really nice small cafe where we stopped for a bite to eat.
Attached to the cafe was an art studio where we looked at works of art by local artists, including wood carving, printing, painting and photography. Some of it was very good and reflected the character of the island.
Sculpture Of A Basking Shark At The Arts Cafe
Everywhere in Scotland, you will see the highland sheep grazing on the sides of the road and you have to get used to them just sitting there.
These sheep are so relaxed that they will sit right on the edge of the road and totally ignore the cars, which is a bit unsettling as there would be a big problem if they did decide to run out into the road.
The Obligatory Scottish Sheep On The Road
Love The Hair-Do!
One real road-hazard in this part of Scotland is the deer coming out at dawn and dusk to feed.
The locals drive like maniacs as it is, but the combination of speed and animals on the road is a recipe for disaster.
The chef at the Strontian hotel hit a deer a few days before we got there and did over 1,000 quids worth of damage, but he was more annoyed about not being able to get the deer before it ran into the trees. It reckoned that it was good meat gone to waste.

The main town on the Isle Of Mull is Tobermory and it is famous for the buildings that are painted in primary colours.
One of the things that has made it famous is a children's television programme called "Balamory" that was filmed here.
The town is set in a small sheltered harbour that is extremely deep and apparently, this harbour was used to shelter large warships during the 2nd World War.
Tobermory Village
Low Tide In Tobermory
The Main Street
The next day, we went out to the end of the peninsular to another loch called Loch Moidart to give Michelle's dogs a run and to see a pretty spectacular ruined castle that sits on a promontory that is only accessible at low tide.

A Nice Contrast Of Colours

Castle Tioram At Low Tide

Heather On The Side Of Loch Moidart
Loch Moidart
Inside The Main Tower
Michelle & Guy On The Beach

A Local Crofter's House
Our last stop for the day was at another small beach called Ardtoe which has great views out to the islands of the Outer Hebrides.
Kentra Bay On The Way To Ardtoe

Looking Towards The Outer Hebrides (The Islands Of Eigg & Rum)
Fantastic Afternoon Light!
The Settlement Of Ardtoe
I liked The Contrast Between Natural & Man-Made
We had a great week in Scotland and could quite easily have stayed longer, but Lyn had already skipped one week of her printmaking course and really had to get back to Florence to prepare for the end-of-year exhibition that Il Bisonte is running.
Lyn had booked a B&B in Edinburgh for one night as it was too far to drive from Strontian to catch a 10am flight, so we drove back to Edinburgh through the mountains (3 & 1/2hrs) and stayed in a really nice small cottage in the suburb of Colinton.
Originally, this was a small working town on the River Leith and is also well known as the place where Robert Louis Stevenson went for holidays as a boy (because his grandfather was the local minister)
Our host (Pam) was a lovely lady and we had a wonderful evening chatting about all sorts of things before heading to the local pub for a good hearty meal. Coincidentally, Pam is a retired film producer from the BBC and was involved with the making of "Balamory" in Tobermory on the Isle of Mull back in the 1990's.
The next morning, we got up early to beat the traffic, drove to the airport in thick fog and dropped the rental car off, got a shuttle bus to the airport and went to check our bag in. All good so far!
We were flying Edinburgh - Stansted - Pisa, so we asked for our bag to be checked right through to Pisa. Not possible, the girl said. RyanAir only checks bags point-to-point which meant that we had to get our bag at Stansted and re-check it for Pisa.
Okay, we thought. We had two hours in Stansted, so it shouldn't be a problem.
Well, it became a problem when the flight to Stansted was delayed over an hour due to "technical difficulties at Stansted airport"!
Then I left my coat in the departure area as we were boarding and Lyn only noticed as we were boarding the plane (it is lucky I have her to keep me on track). I had to run back and get it - the staff weren't that keen on letting me go back into the terminal, but I won in the end and was last back onto the plane - exhausted from the run.
At Stansted, we had a long walk to get to the bag receival area, but our bag was the 2nd one off the carousel and the bag check-in area was only a short run away - awesome!
We made it to the bag check-in counter with 5 minutes to spare and then had to hustle-on to the departure gate as the flight was due to leave fairly soon.
Incidentally, when we asked the check-in girl what the "technical issues" were, she chuckled and said that they hadn't had any problems at Stansted, but that all flights out of Edinburgh were delayed due to fog!
We finally got to the gate as everyone was queuing up to board and suddenly realised that the plane wasn't even there yet!
At this point, RyanAir announced that our flight would be delayed over an hour, so Lyn & I sort of collapsed into a couple of chairs, got something to eat and drink and relaxed.
We finally got back to Pisa at 7:40pm, caught the shuttle bus to Florence and got home about 9pm.
What a trip!
The "funny" thing is that Lyn had commented in the car on the drive from Strontian to Edinburgh that "so far, all our travel arrangements have worked perfectly".
Hmm - maybe she shouldn't have said that.