Monday, 30 August 2010

Overwhelming Welcome

Written 23rd August  (sorry, been without internet for ages, was easier to find in backwards eastern european countries... ;)

We have been completely overwhelmed by a fabulous Scottish welcome!

After a beautifully calm crossing, we awoke to brilliant sunshine

and the sight of the english coastline sailing past on the horizon - sadly no one could tell me where we were -

and when we next looked out, there was the iconic Forth Railway Bridge steaming towards us.

Even the sun came out again to welcome us as Jules sailed under the famous bridges.

And as promised, Brian and Ulla came out to the ferry to meet us, with their grandchildren in tow, and escorted us home.  A somewhat interesting journey...

As I have already alluded to, despite our ferry claiming to be one of the newest boats on the North Sea, whichever genius designed it has clearly never driven a car on to it, let alone a little van which doesn't like stopping or restarting. 

The car deck was two floors up - same level as the passengers so Jules was out in the fresh open sea air - reached by a 30° ramp with a tight three point turn manoeuvre required at the top to get parked. 

But instead of loading cars one at a time, straight up the ramp and round the tight corner, they beckoned three cars up together then left two clinging on half way up.  Which as you can imagine, is not nice for most people, even those who love hill starts, but is damn near impossible for those who have 1.5 tonnes of bus which stalls if you take your foot off the accelerator and doesn't restart happily - sadly even after its successful strip down and clean, the starter motor is back to its old grumbly self again.  We only realised what was happening with the loading plan when we were car two of three, halfway up the slope...  Will tried to stop using just the handbrake and nearly yanked it out of the dashboard in the process.  Then the handbrake broke, we started sliding backwards, the engine stalled and the people in the car behind us started looking very scared and rapidly backing away until Will slammed his foot on the brakes and of course Jules stalled...  So.  Stopped.  Halfway up.  Better than careening back down out of control but still not great.  And the ferry operative was impatiently waving us up.

Will did manage it - thank goodness -by getting the engine started (eventually), with my foot on the footbrake and a coordinated three-legged effort of clutch, brake and accelerator to bunny hop our way up the vicious incline accompanied by a strong stench of burning clutch. Poo! Where we continued to cause chaos by stalling three times in the required three point turn...

Disembarkation was calmer - forwards in a wide circle and downhill, easy! - but the drive home was interesting to say the least.  It turned out that the hand brake still worked - albeit with a nasty grinding noise - if you pulled it but it wouldn't stay on so we could still slow down and then bumpstart it if it stalled, provided we didn't lose too much momentum - Will is extremely good at this now - but much of the journey was spent willing Brian not to stop...  but at least by following him, we knew which side of the road to drive on... :)

I once before likened Jules to the Tardis - a fantastical conveyance of retro blue cuboid design with a mind of its own, larger on the inside than it appears on the outside, which materialises where and when you least expect it, only to sit unobtrusively and unnoticed by the side of the road until called... - but Jules' required driving style is now also somewhat reminiscent of the erratic lurching and wild lever pulling modus operandi required to pilot the Tardis - and Will has the wild hair for it too... ;)  Much fun!

And so our first 24 hours back on british soil was spent in Brian and Ulla's wonderfully welcoming and photo filled home where even if you are on your own in a room, you are never alone, surrounded as you are by the pictures and memories of those who have been welcomed in before you.  

And Brian's garage contained just the things needed to enable Will to fix the handbrake on the patio, namely some copper pipe - which was cut and fashioned into a new collar thing - and something to hammer the rest of it back into shape.  Yep, as usual, the fix was effected with a spot of precision bashing :)

So, all fixed and stuffed full of delicious home cooking, properly stirred scottish porridge (Brian actually has the correct scottish implement for the task rather than just a wooden spoon!) and as much tea as we could drink, we waved farewell to Brian, Ulla, Elspeth, Felix and Carina and bunny hopped and stalled our way back across the Forth to Dunfermline to visit Will's school friend Ben and his family.  A train ride back to Edinburgh city centre (and a several miles of lost wanderings round the city in my ridiculously unsuitable sparkly heels - Will said I had to wear them otherwise there was no point having trogged them all the way round europe - when we failed on the first instruction on the directions to the pub) took us back into town for a drink and a curry with Ben and another of Will's school friends, Emma, and so our reintegration to civilised british society continued.  To be completed over the rest of the weekend by takeout pizza hut pizza, trips to two different parks to play on the swings and the slides, a Wii sports challenge and even a full roast chicken dinner.  Definitely home!

Having been thoroughly spoilt all weekend in other people's family homes, by this morning we had to tear ourselves away or risk never actually getting to John O'Groats.  Afterall, Land's End to Dunfermline-but-then-we-couldn't-extricate-ourselves-from-someone-else's-lovely-sofa doesn't quite have the same ring to it as a journey plan... :)  so we waved goodbye to Ben, Ali, Amy and Lucy and got back on the road

Sadly though, the weather hasn't quite caught up with our plans.  after a beautiful weekend, it has decided that today is the day to remind us that we are in Scotland in August by bucketing it down :(

After a lazy start, we skirted Stirling - with a peek at the top of the William Wallace Monument amongst the treetops and a glimpse through the drizzle at the imposing castle squatting squarely on the hill -

and made it to the pretty grey stone town of Callander in the pouring rain.  But just to damp for anything exciting. 

So here we are, by the side of Loch Lubnaig having decided to stop for the night and hope for better weather atop the moors tomorrow.  The midges are circling but not getting in - although having survived the mosquitoes of Finland in a field full of naked hippies, set between a swamp and a lake, scottish midges hold no fear for us and it is certainly far too cold for any naked lake swimming here! - the rain is battering down but we are warm and dry and snug in our little vanny home and we have the last of our bulgarian pesto with the last of our norwegian pasta for dinner.   So all back to 'normal' after our wee house dwelling holiday :)

Our map has been well and truly scribbled on by Brian, who has plotted our route and recommended fabulous roads, overnight stops, interesting  places and the cheapest petrol in the northern highlands (fyi: it's Tesco's on the northern outskirts of Wick) and I have had my pronunciation corrected  - "Locks are things you find on doors..." thank you Ben! - so we're all set.  Highlands here we come!

PS Big birthday shout out to my dad who has reached a significantly venerable age today - Happy Birthday aged father(60)!

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