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Tuesday 13th September 2011

Up for another slap-up full english - with fried bread ! Rain pouring down outside.
Got showered and tidied up a bit for the big reunion and got on the road about 1030.
Stopped when barely out of Aberlour to see an interesting-looking bridge. Weather kindly cheered up a bit.

Had a leisurely drive up to Portknockie on the Moray Firth coast and had a walk and climb to see the Bow and Fiddle rock. Lovely craggy coastline.

Came back west along the coast road towards Lossiemouth through several old fishing villages - all very nice - old and quaint. The houses are all of the same style with heavy blocks on the corners and around the door/window frames.

Joined the many dolphin-spotters at the mouth of the River Spey but didn't spot any dolphins. I nearly reversed into a car getting out of the carpark! Drove inland and over a bridge and stopped on the other side of the river mouth for tea.

Slowly ambled along the coast a bit further and then went to have a look at Elgin. Rain returned with a vengeance and gave us a good soaking as we topped up on cash and fuel. Gave up on Elgin - there was no way you could get out the car.
Dad phoned Sandy and suggested we could be there in 15 mins (4pm-ish) and Sandy said he'd put the kettle on.
Got there as the rain started to ease off a bit. Sandy and Sheila were waiting at the front door for us and invited us in. Lots of chat and tea and rolls and cake and reminiscing and comparing notes on family histories.
About 5:30 Sandy showed us to the cottage. We followed him a mile or so west along the coast road and he pointed us into the parking bay. The cottage is an old fisherman's house dating back to the 1800's - a very cosy little place. It belongs to Sheila's sister (holiday home) and tonight will cost us a meagre 25.

We settled in, dragged a few bags out of the car, and decided to go for a quick walk before it was time to get ready for dinner. Went down across the golf course and onto the beach. Watched several Tornado jets swooping down across the bay - sometimes landing at RAF Lossiemouth (RNAS Lossiemouth in Dad's days here) and sometimes coming right down and then powering away again. They did this all afternoon and evening - a good show.


Dad carried on walking to get some milk while Mum and I returned to the cottage, except the key that Dad gave Mum wasn't the cottage key - it was the spare car key so we couldn't get in! We waited a while and then went and found Dad in the car.
Got ready and I dropped Mum and Dad off at the hotel and collected Sandy and Sheila so Sandy could have a drink. Had a lovely meal at their favourite Stotfield Hotel just around the corner. We sat by a huge window looking out over the sea. Dad and I had the local speciality starter - Cullen Skink (creamy fish soup with leeks) and a Sea Bass main course - Mum had Melon starter and Herb-crusted Chicken main. All top-notch haute-cuisine grub and not too pricey. 86 for the 5 of us. Then over the road to their Golf Club for a couple of drinks and more chat until we packed up around 1030. We arranged to go round to visit again tomorrow around 11am as their daughter, Cheryl, wanted to meet us.

Pouring with rain again as I took Sandy and Sheila home and went back for Mum and Dad. Home to the cosy cottage after a really nice day and evening out.

71 miles today: 798 miles total

Wednesday 14th September 2011

I was up late sorting my diary out last night and slept in a bit so we didn't leave the cottage until 1030. Had a quick run to the east side of Lossiemouth to see the harbour area. It was a bit quiet as most of the fishing had gone. Parked up where we could see a great view east along the Moray Firth coast and watched Cormorants diving for fish. Tried, and failed, to get some photos - noticed later that my camera had got nudged into a different mode . . .
Headed back to Sandy and Sheila's and got there just as Sandy pulled up with Cheryl in the car. Lots more hellos and chat and reminsiscing and comparing notes on families and tea and cake and shortbread and more cake, and goodbyes again around 1230. Sad to end the visit but I think it was a great success.
Headed west along the coast and stopped at Findhorn to watch the sea crashing against a breakwater in the gale force winds and seagulls flying backwards. Had a nice cup of soup for a snack.

Back on the road into Inverness. Had a very quick drive around but there didn't seem to be anything particular to see, and we're far more interested in the countryside anyway, so we moved on down alongside the River Ness and onto the southern shore of Loch Ness. Fantastic scenery again.

Driving alongside Loch Ness a red squirrel ran across the road in front of us, and stopped in a tree near the road. It disappeared before we got the cameras out but we had quite a good view of him. Stopped at Foyers to see the Falls of Foyer. Climbed down a damp muddy slippery 300 steps for photos - then had to climb 300 damp muddy slippery steps back up. Dad skipped up like a mountain goat! Took some photos - including some marginally successful arty-farty slow exposures.


The road then veered away from Loch Ness for a while and went up and up into the mountains. Stopped at the top for another soup break as we enjoyed the last lot so much! More photos and another great rainbow.

Carried on back towards Loch Ness and went around the Southern end . .

. . and into Fort Augustus. Stopped to look at the Caledonian Canal that links Loch Ness and it's south-western neighbours to provide a complete East-West boat route through the middle of Scotland.

Back up the northern shore of Loch Ness. Stopped briefly for quick photos of Urquhart Castle.

Then left Loch Ness (sadly without seeing the monster) to head east into the wilderness to look for somewhere to stay the night. Started looking in Cannich and found a nice place almost immediately - 24 each for 2 rooms. It's run by Tim who seems like a good bloke - the house has a very Indian / Nepalese theme as he spends a fair amount of time out there doing children's charity work - and has motorcyled to Southern India and Nepal and back once on an Enfield Bullet. He seems to have Bhuddist / Hindu leanings.
Walked over to the Glen Affric pub and had a very good meal - Dad and I had Steak Pie, Mum had Fish and Chips - about 35 with a round of drinks.
Another great day - a nice hour with Sandy and family, some terrific scenery, and weather's mostly been good though it's been several degrees colder today.

123 miles today: 921 miles total

Thursday 15th September 2011

Up for a nice continental breakfast at 0830. The weather looks very promising - clear blue skies and no wind.
We had a chat with Tim about what there is to see and he was quite horrified that we didn't know about Glen Affric - it seems to be one of the real must-sees of Scotland - never 'eard of it. We took his advice and postponed our semi-plan of shooting up the east coast to fit in an hour or 2 a little bit west in Glen Affric.
It was absolutely outstanding. A lovely river surrounded by fantastic countryside and mountains and trees and heather and moss, and then a beautiful loch surrounded by fantastic countryside and mountains and trees and heather and moss. We stopped to follow a 3 mile trail taking in Dog Falls. A lovely walk with a few steep climbs. Got bugged by the legendary Scottish midges right at the falls, but just in that one place. It was enough to get me scratching for half an hour though, and just writing it about now is enough to get me started again! Pesky little things!

We got back the car an hour later and fed the chaffinches some stale croissant. They're very tame and a few of the brave ones will take food from your hand. Cracking photo from Dad and a nice little video from Mum here . . .

Drove further down to end of the road where the River Affric exits from Loch Affric - fantastic scenery all the way. After a quick stop and look around we turned back and stopped MANY times for photos and once for soup along the way.

At one point there was something moving in the water. We're pretty certain it was an otter though it was too far away to be certain - not sure what else it could have been though.

And then a nice Red Admiral showed up in the heather.

And just some more shots of the awesome scenery.

We finally dragged ourselves away from Glen Affric at about 3pm, and we only just made it out then - it was just too nice to leave.
We got back onto our original planned route and got going north east. Got quite high again in the mountains and over some nice bridges over the lochs - great driving roads. Here about to cross the Cromity Firth, and then looking down onto Banor Bridge area on the way down out of the mountains near Easter Fearn.

Took a detour to Lairg to see if the salmon were leaping, but we didn't read the book carefully enough and only noticed the viewing point was 5 miles south of Lairg when we were in Lairg. Decided to skip it - we're right at the end of the season anyway.
Back to east coast and motored up the A9 - terrific driving road - twisty and turny and up and down and smooth surface and damned near deserted. Great in the car - would be brilliant on a motorbike!
Had a quick look at Dunrobin Castle on the way - the biggest "house" in Scotland with 187 rooms.

Stopped by a nice little river for tea and fruit. Bombed on through to Wick, enjoying the great roads, the lovely countryside (a lot flatter now but still nice and open and unspoilt), and the views over the North Sea (looking flat, calm and blue).
After 7pm now so had a quick look around and soon found a B&B for 50 double room + 30 single. Very nice lady with a very nice house and 2 very nice rooms for us, all fitted out very nicely. The place was spotless - everything gleamed - and I was worried about touching anything for fear I might contaminate it.
We quickly scrubbed up and headed out to find the new Indian Restaurant she'd recommended. Nice restaurant and excellent food (Oriental (lamb, chicken, prawn) Korai for Mum, Oriental Balti for Dad and an Oriental Jalfrezi for me) - 55 with a few drinks. Came out of the restaurant to discover we had a totally flat front offside tyre. I hadn't had a puncture for years until the same tyre went flat on my car 3 weeks ago! Put the spacesaver wheel on and limped back to the B&B. Looks like we have a job to do in the morning.
A really great day. Glen Affric was breathtaking, weather's been great (blue skies and sunshine all day) and the drive up north was easy and fun.

171 miles today: 1092 miles total

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