Last time I checked in, we were staying in Bristol after the first day of our Trafalgar tour. Today begins day 5 and the further journey through the beautiful Scottish Highlands, so there is a bit to fill in!

From Bristol we made our way north and skipped just over the Welsh border to the ruins of Tintern Abbey, though unfortunately not for long enough to explore the interior of the ruins. Tintern was a Cistercian Abbey – again I reflected that I could totally have coped with the cloistered life if it included surrounds like that!

From there we made our way to Chester and walked the wall around the city, taking in the beautiful historic buildings inside and the rolling hills outside. Sar took an afternoon excursion to Wales while I explored Chester a bit more and went to Evensong at Chester Cathedral (where I was very warmly welcomed by a most enthusiastic assistant in their shop and introduced to Canon Jane Brooke, who was very gracious in her hospitality) – it is a small world – Jane and her husband are visiting Newcastle later this year!

From Chester we drove to Lancaster and stayed the night, noting that the further along the tour we get, the further from town our hotels are, equalling a corresponding drop in the availability of nearby pubs! This is not a pleasing development after being told over and over of the vital importance of sharing in the local brew. Alas.

We set out from Lancaster to explore the stunning Lake District, where we took a steam train to Lake Windemere and a boat trip across it – the scenery was extraordinary, though I worry that it is presently the edge of summer here – I can’t imagine what winter would feel like! From Windemere we went to the entirely gorgeous village of Grasmere, famous as the inspiration for some of William Wordsworth’s works, as well as his final resting place. I was feeling brave, so had rabbit casserole for lunch, which was delicious, but according to Sar, highly insensitive given we were just up the road from where Beatrix Potter wrote the tales of Peter Rabbit! From Grasmere we headed north, stopping briefly in Gretna Green, before heading to Glasgow. On the way in, we spotted Jamie Oliver’s Italian restaurant, which turned out to be an excellent choice for dinner – not only was the food fantastic, our Glaswegian waitress was lots and lots of fun and brilliantly patient with us and our prevaricating over the menu. We actually offered her a job as our tour guide, but she politely declined – more’s the pity!

Glasgow was a short-lived trip, giving way to the Highlands and a boat trip around Loch Lomond (yes, with obligatory singing on the bus of the Loch Lomond song – in case you can’t tell, most of the bus is at least twice our age!). It is wild country and a little bit eery – the mountains are incredibly steep and the water looks like ink… Little wonder Rob Roy chose a cave on the banks to hide out! After a brief stop in Oban, we went to a working sheep farm near Aviemore… For those who don’t know, I grew up on a hobby farm, so I was on familiar territory, but it was still great fun to try hand-shearing and feed a lamb or two with a bottle! The shepherd and his sheep dogs were seriously impressive, not only because they worked so well together, but because he was so passionate about farming and the sustainable production of food. Add to that some serious cute factor for the border collie puppies and a few lambs (the most lovely of whom was born on the day of the royal wedding and thus affectionately named ‘Princess Catherine’ – she is the pet of the shepherd’s 6 year old daughter!) and it was a pretty awesome end to the day.

I should add that up here it is also daylight until late in the evening, which is just right for strolling into the village and enjoying a pint of something with one of our new friends, Ellie, who hails from the US but has been studying theology at St Andrews. Ellie and her brother are the only other under-35s on the trip, and they are doing wonders for our sanity!!!

That brings us to today, which includes more time on the long and winding road through beautiful Scottish scenery, but with a stop at Blair Castle. Unlike the quite ceremonial royal castles we’ve come across, this castle offers a glimpse of some of the more, er, robust aspects of Scottish history. Belonging to the Dukes of Atholl, the front entrance contains very interesting artwork that gives a clue to the favourite pastime of the residents… Arranged in quite intricate patterns around the walls is a fair-sized armoury! That many rifles makes one pay attention to the ‘no photographs’ rule!

So, we are heading now to St Andrews to later to Falkirk, in time for a traditional Scottish dinner this evening and then intensive shopping/sightseeing/exploring in Edinburgh tomorrow. Here endeth the chapter! I hope all is well back home and can’t wait to catch up when I get back!

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