We left the ancient city of York, stopped at the Angel of the North for a photo op and eventually ended up in Seahouses in Northumbria. We had booked the Farne Island Guest House for the night, the first and only proper BnB we booked. It was very pleasant place, very comfortable and well positioned to explore the small village of Seahouses.
The village is small and very quaint, its main attractions are the thriving fishing harbour, the Farne Islands just off shore, home of a billion (may not be an accurate estimate) Puffins and hundreds (same for this) of ship wrecks for divers to explore and the singular (this is correct) picturesque Bamburgh Castle.
November is really off season to visit Seahouses but you can glimpse how busy it can get in the summer. It’s surrounded by caravan parks and hotels. We toyed with the idea of doing a cruise to the Farne Islands but their star residents, the aforementioned and wildly exaggerated billions of Puffins, only came there to have sex in front of tourists between April and July. For the rest of the year they are away at sea in Canada’s Gulf of St. Lawrence or Cape Cod eating fish, and drinking seawater, expelling the excess salt out of their nostrils. (That bit is true).
Without the Puffins we decided a trip wasn’t worthwhile so instead set out early the next day stopping at another of my photo op locations, Bamburgh Castle.
But before we left we had the most amazing breakfast at Farne Island Guest House, it may have ranked as one of the best meals I had on the whole trip. Michael, the host, was a serious foodie, he prided himself on the quality and the provenance of every ingredient on the menu. That morning he had secured some smoked kippers, I didn’t have any but the others couple staying in the guest house did and they both looked and tasted amazing, according to the aforementioned couple. I didn’t order those as I had my heart set on the full breakfast with bacon and eggs and gourmet black pudding which was just divine. I’d highly recommend this place just for the breakfasts. It was with heavy heart and heavier stomach we set out for Bonnie Scotland.
We whizzed through the ancient and extremely picturesque cities of Alnwick and Berwick Upon Tweed replete with castles and walls and other stuff beautiful to photograph without taking a single picture and instead stopped for a selfie at the Scottish Border sign. How very modern.
Now at this point I must introduce the third member of our crew, the hire car, “Angry”. It was a Toyota GHR (Angry – GHR – Grrrrr! – geddit?) and it was a super high tech, hybrid SUV style machine with a brilliant on board computer full of great safety gadgets that engineers think are amazing such as lights that blinked and a noise that sounded to warn you there was someone on your blind spot when you were going to overtake and camera that reads the white lines and caused another noise to be made when you crossed that illegally and another noise that came on when you exceeded the speed limit and yet another noise when there was a speed camera up ahead. Don’t even think about driving off with your seat belt not done up, Angry really made a special noise when you did that and apart from all the noises it had a very special convenience feature that really, really pissed me off. The key was one of those proximity devices, the car knew when it was near. Step out of the car, press the lock button then try the door handle to check the car was locked and it unlocked itself as it now believed, conveniently, that the owner was near with the key in his pocket and he/she wanted to get back in!! So there was really no way of knowing for certain it was locked unless I walked half a mile away with the key in my pocket and Jenni checked the car which was obviously the extreme convenience the Japanese designers were going for. However, I loved Angry for just one reason, the noise it made when a speed camera was coming up. After hours on the road and plenty of fiddling with the on board computer set up I managed to silence all the others but kept this one on. It proved very beneficial once we crossed the border into Scotland as there was a speed camera every 10 feet (also exaggerated) from Berwick upon Tweed all the way to Edinburgh. Without the Angry bleep I’d seriously have copped a dozen speeding fines just on that road alone.
We were due to stay in Edinburgh for 2 nights. Throughout this trip we booked a range of overnight accommodation ranging from entry level and basic to top class, our hotel in Edinburgh was “Top Class”. It was surrounded by road works as Edinburgh is investing in an extension to the tram system so parking was again a challenge but not as bad as Leeds.
After checking in and doing a bit of minor exploring which included a pint of excellent Orkney Dark Ale at the Guildford Arms, a very new bar opened very recently by previous standards in 1896, we were wondering what we could do for the evening. Upon a bit of expert googling it was discovered that a famous (never heard of him) English comedian called Jon Richardson was playing that night at the Edinburgh Playhouse (never heard of the place, didn’t have a clue where it was) and tickets were available and without knowing the guy nor the venue (mentioned both those facts already) we bought two tickets for a bargain price.
Turns out, as these things often do with the Walligans, that Jon Richard is very, very famous, from TV and everything, and also extremely funny and that the Edinburgh Playhouse was not just the premier venue for shows and acts in Edinburgh but is also very famous and is also right next door to our hotel. A fact discovered after I asked the concierge to order us a taxi to the place of course!
In case you were wondering how close “next door” is the picture of the hotel above and this one of the Edinburgh Playhouse were taken from the same spot, I just rotated the camera about 30 degrees.
If you are reading these blogs in sequence, sometime around Part 1 in Stroud Jenni discovered porridge is a great breakfast in a cold climate, and consequently ordered porridge for every breakfast after that and the fact that Scotland is famous for porridge the next morning Jenni, surprisingly had Scottish porridge for breakfast in the hotel. Can’t remember what I had but was probably everything with extra bacon. The breakfast cost the price of a small house in Hobart, I’m not mentioning this to complain just that its relevant later on in this blog.
We did a bus tour, one of those hop on hop off tours, which was very interesting. Then it was lunch time and we had researched “best seafood restaurant in Edinburgh” and the Mussel Inn came up tops, that’s where we were heading for lunch.
The food was fantastic. The Mussel Inn is fitted out like a diner, a basic cafe with no frills but the food is Michelin Star standard and great value. If you are in Edinburgh and love seafood I’d recommend this place.
And look what they had on their drinks menu. Again, for those reading these blogs in sequence I last had a pint of Thistly Cross Cider in Stroud described in Blog Part 1.
That night we were due to go see Too Many Zoos. We first discovered these three buskers when their internet video went viral. After discovering they had a Facebook page and liking them and receiving updates from them we were informed that were touring Brisbane, our home city, and playing at the Zoo, our favourite venue, in November, the month we were in the UK! Bummer. But by coincidence they were also touring the UK before they went Australia and were in Edinburgh the same time we got there!! Result! Tickets were booked and we were in. Due to minor misunderstanding of the time they were on we didn’t catch the entire show but what we saw was great, they were full of energy and fun. If you get a chance go see them.
As they started and finished really early (see aforementioned misunderstanding) we still had a whole night ahead of us in Edinburgh. The previous nights advanced googling informed us Edinburgh had a popular jazz bar called imaginatively, The Jazz Bar, and it was not far from where we saw Too Many Zoos, so it was there we headed.
It was packed with people young and old, but mostly young, and the music was fantastic. The group playing were called The Jam Experiment, a 5 piece band of young, talented jazz musicians that play their own compositions. The venue was great, the crowd appreciative, the beer and wine divine and the craic mighty. The randomer in the picture below seemed to support our view of the place. The Jazz Club in Edinburgh, although we didn’t plan to be there we were very happy we ended up there. Yet another serendipitous outcome during our UK tour.
We went back to the Glasshouse. It’s a beautiful hotel inside and out with these Glasshouse Angels lighting the way back to the rooms. The walls are lined with original art and the attention from the staff was the best I have experienced anywhere.
The next morning we had breakfast from a beautiful cafe just up the road from the hotel, it cost the price cup of hotel breakfast coffee and was generous and delicious. This confirmed you can travel on a budget and still stay in top class establishments.
The hotel does not have a car park but has an arrangement with the shopping centre next door where, if you park there, you can get significant discounts if you get your ticket validated by the hotel, which of course we did. In a shopping centre a car park is usually free or at least no more than £3 or £4 for a few hours if it has a cinema and restaurants that cause you to stay a while, which this one did. When I went to pick up the car a little Scottish lady and her husband came up behind me at the ticket machine as I stuck in my ticket. £26 it came up, she saw this over my shoulder. “Holy God! How long have you been parked?” she asked incredulous at the cost. “Only a couple of hours. They’re charging 3 times the normal rate this weekend to pay for the new tram system” I said as I paid my fee and walked away. The last thing I heard as the lift door closed to take me to the car park was her screeching at her husband, “I told you not to park in here!”
And so we left the couple bickering in the beautiful city of Edinburgh to meet old friends in Dunblane…
Part 4; Dunblane, Stirling and Loch Lomond.