Sunday dawned bright but cold, with a sprinkling of frost. It was an early start, with a wonderful dawn chorus acting as our alarm call.
Servicing the van took a wee while, especially as Mr Snail noticed that our exhaust was hanging low. Investigation revealed that several of the exhaust mounts had disappeared. It might have been the unexpected speed bump that we met last night on our way on to the site. You know the kind, the ones with the speed bump warning sign planted adjacent to the bump instead of sensible yards ahead.
There was a degree of stress evident - and I do not mean in the exhaust pipe.
We needed to be off, we wanted to get through the Central Belt before the day got going. Crossing all digits, Mr Snail drove with care and kept close to the hard shoulder wherever possible.
When we arrived at our intended rest stop, Annanwater Services, we were still intact. Mr Snail checked the state of affairs whilst Nell and I headed for the path around the water.
There were distinct signs of Spring also being well advanced here, though there was ample evidence of flood damage from the winter too. Nell went back in to the van after our walk and we went for some caffeine and calories.
Over a bucket of coffee, we made use of the free Wi-Fi to find an exhaust specialist in Carlisle and see if we could get a repair done there.
Unfortunately it was not possible to get Brunhilde tended to properly and we ended up in B&Q, pulling from the shelves anything that looked useful. She ended up with some cable ties holding her pipes on and we hoped that they would hold good once the exhaust heated up again.
It was hot and sunny in Carlisle and there was an abundance of spring flowers, also an abundance of traffic and people. It was manic and I did not like it one bit. It was good to get out of town and on to the moors.
Our afternoon stop at Lambley Viaduct is a spot well known to us. We originally found it years ago, when out geocaching. It was a tight fit for Brunhilde but she went in. Having been somewhat delayed, and by now Mr Snail was feeling weary indeed, we thought we might overnight here instead of heading all the way in to Teesdale as per The Plan.
However, fuelled by coffee and cake and after a brisk walk along to the viaduct, he felt refreshed enough to push on, having checked the mileage for the following day and deciding that some of it needed to be checked off this afternoon.
We had clearly left Spring behind in Carlisle. Up here in the hills there was little sign of growth and the day was dull, grey and and a little misty.
We arrived at Bowlees just in time to find the visitor centre closed. There were still plenty of people around however and we did our best therefore not to get in the way. Later we had the place to ourselves and were able to walk the dog up to Gibson's Cave. The light was poor by then but I had a go at some photographs regardless. Once again, Spring had yet to show its face here.
Here's the album for the day
Monday was a day reserved for family. We drove down through Teesdale, stopping only to take a photograph or two of Brunhilde outside my old home.
Here in Cotherstone, the daffs were also lagging behind those in Dumfries and Galloway and Carlisle.
It took a while to become used to the volume of traffic after 13 years in the hinterlands. The A66 was bad enough but the A1(M) was horrible indeed. I was happy when we arrived at Pocklington.
A rather longer day, covering around 180 miles but with the added bonus of fish and chips thrown in.
The Plan had us split the day in to four equal legs, with two coffee breaks and a lunch stop neatly dividing the drive. We were aiming to be at the Bridge of Allan by 4:30 pm, allowing a chip supper from the Allanwater Café and leaving plenty of time to check in at Blair Drummond. As usual Mr Snail declared "too soon to stop" and drove on all the way to Ralia before we stopped for coffee and rather delicious muffins.
I took leave of my senses at Ralia and bought a handbag!
After a grey and mizzly start, the sun came out just as we crossed the border in to Perth and Kinross. We drove on to Perth, where Mr Snail hoped to find a motorhome dealer with a waste trolley in stock. We failed in that mission but we did fill Brunhilde's fridge with goodies from M&S - my first M&S in over 14 years. My first pot of their sour cream and chive dip in just as long. Oh, my!
The Bridge of Allan was not at all as I remembered, not a sleepy little village but was in fact heaving with people and traffic. Bruni would not fit in the car park but after a full circuit we did find a kerbside spot outside the care home by the river. Happily this was just around the corner from the Allanwater Café and there were picnic tables at hand.
Two large Cod suppers were speedily ordered.
NB - we do not order Large fish because we are greedy, no, we order Large fish because it simply fries better and yields a nicer result. Skinny fish dry out in the cooking. So, imagine our horror...
I swear it was not a trick of the memory. The years have not been kind to the Allanwater Café. What was once the best chip supper in Scotland is now distinctly average. The business is now in the hands of a new generation, the fourth, I believe. Clearly not safe hands. Greasy batter, lukewarm fish, undistinguished chips. A grave disappointment after so many years waiting for a good piece of cod.
We were so sad that we did not return in search of home-made ice cream and cherries but simply went on our way - though not before I spent some time enjoying the real and definite signs of Spring.
The Blair Drummond Caravan Park is a Caravan Club Affiliated site.Part of the Blair Drummond Estate, the site is set largely within the old walled garden and is separated from the Safari Park by a woodland, accessible from the site. It being the Easter school holidays, the place was quite full but the warden pointed us towards a quiet part of the site outside the wall. This space had three pitches but only ours was occupied.
The woodland walks were beckoning to Nell and she happily slipped through the hedge with us and in to a world of trees, rhododendrons, snowdrops and daffodils. There were woodpeckers pecking and birdsong everywhere about us.
The sun was quite strong, strong enough that I bemoaned not bringing a hat and a bottle of water along. We kept in the shade of the trees as much as possible and were entertained by surprise vistas - the castle hove in to view at one point
closely followed by the realisation that we were looking down on the Chimpanzee's island at the Safari Park!
We found a swing in the woods
and also a tipi construction
and then Mr Snail led me up the
and home to Brunhilde and another early bedtime - we had an almost equally long journey to face the following day.
Owls hooted and called all night and the woodpecker was busy very early in the frosty morning. We were perhaps not as refreshed as we might have been when we set off the next day.
We decided to catch the evening boat, leaving the day free for packing the van. This was a really good idea and meant that we left feeling quite fresh, unlike those times when Mr Snail has leaped immediately from his desk to driving seat and I have been worn out from making all the preparations alone.
It was an easy crossing. As usual we spent the night at the Ring 'o Brodgar car park and alone so we disturbed nobody when we rose at 5 am to catch the early ferry from Stromness and were again blessed with an easy crossing.
Breakfast at Sibster Forest, where we walked Nell around the long loop, fuelled us up for the shortish leg to Dornoch. We had debated travelling further but after a 5 am start, 70 miles is probably pushing things far enough. Sure enough, we were ready for bed by 7:30 pm, though not before a nice long stroll on the beach with the dog and my camera.