We set off for an overnight stay in Dumfries with rain battering the newly washed car. It never stopped. We drove through a curtain of rain along the M62, the A1M, and onto the A66 where I took over the wheel to join a traffic jam all the way to the M6. The journey took an hour longer than it should but at last the weather started to clear as we reached first base.
The Huntingdon B&B was a lovely place to stay. The only blots were that breakfast was an unadvertised extra and the two 3/4 beds pushed together were too big for the room. Otherwise the quality of the decor and fittings were superb.
Dumfries didn’t seem to have much to offer from what we saw of it unless you were in the market for a new car. But we enjoyed a stroll along the river watching a heron fishing for its supper, followed by a nice pub meal where we were lucky enough to grab a table at the Caven Arms.
The weather was much improved for the onward journey to Gartness. Once Jill had figured out how to open the gates we made our way down the narrow lane to a strange welcome at Mill House Annex.
“But you’re a little early,” declared a somewhat bemused looking woman when we introduced ourselves (by 30 minutes). Apparently her husband kept the key and he wasn’t home yet, but after shooing us back to keep our Covid distance she agreed we could bring the car down and try the door so see if the cottage was open.
At first glance our accommodation looked rather nice, despite the strange smell of bleach mixed with something unidentifiable. Six mats outside the entrance door and five more inside hinted at an obsession with cleanliness. On closer inspection however it soon became apparent that this place was not quite up to the Huntingdon standards. There was a strange mish-mash of furniture, all of which had seen better days, a wardrobe which was in danger of falling over and a toilet seat which was a couple of inches too small. Plus a large collection of dead midges on top of one of the strange bathroom globe lights.
But then there was the back garden! The outside dining table was badly in need of being introduced to a friendly bonfire, and was partly covered by an overgrown shrub making it mostly unusable; but beyond that was a stunning garden. We had our own personal river including a waterfall, the sound of which lulled me to sleep every night.
Sunday 27th Balloch & Balmaha
A relatively short drive was followed by a relatively long walk, alternating between the shore of Loch Lomond and Balloch Castle country park. It was a very hot day with Scotland’s famous midges keeping us company. There were many paths to explore and some of them led to nowhere; trodden by people like us who then had to retrace our steps and eventually return to the main path. We did happen to spot the Loch Ness monster, I think it was lost too!
Lunch at a picnic table was followed by a visit to Balmaha. There wasn’t an awful lot to do here apart from the climb up Conic Hill which we were far too tired to attempt.
Monday 28th Killin, the Falls of Falloch & Inveruglas
Jill did most of the driving today, taking us first to Killin and Dochart Falls. It was a lovely village, immaculately clean and tidy despite its popularity with tourists. We spent some time clambering over the rocks and watching the river picking its way around nature’s detritus.
Next stop the Falls of Falloch. There were a surprising number of people here, some cooking on instant BBQs, others sunbathing, and a group of young men tombstoning from a ledge into the large pool which the cascade of water had carved out of the land below. There were even a few people swimming or floating around on inflatable rings. The heat was pretty intense and I have to say it looked pretty tempting.
We had a small picnic sat on the rocks, watching a wagtail chasing its lunch while trout lazed in the shaded water below.
Next stop was Inveruglas, where the wooden pyramid steps gave a spectacular view of the loch from its northernmost point. It was actually too hot to spend too much time there but we managed to do a little walking and spent some time cooling in the shade of trees by the water’s edge.
We then went in search of refreshments. A short drive took us to the Village Inn at Arrochar were we enjoyed a cooling pint with a relaxing view across Loch Long.
Tuesday 29th Glasgow
Planes, trains and automobiles; well actually it was car, train and bus. A one hour open top bus journey with a guide who hardly paused for breath, saw us arrive at the Kelvingrove Museum & Art Gallery. This proved to be something of a disappointment; a stunning building but the displays inside didn’t keep us interested enough to hang around for long.
It was another really hot day, which we spent wandering around without a great deal of purpose, eventually ending up in the ‘People’s Park’ where crowds of Scots were beginning to gather to shout for Germany v England in the world cup last 16.
We didn’t speak too much for fear of revealing our accents and made our way to the Scotia Bar which was apparently renowned for its choice of ales; only when we got there there was nothing on the pumps. I had to make do with a Beavertown Neck Oil on keg while watching the first half of the game. It was then back to St George’s Square and the train back to base.
Much cooler today and the plan was to head to Queen Elizabeth Forest Park. First activity was a walk through the woods, a very pleasant stroll during which we managed to catch a glimpse of our first ever red squirrels (albeit from a hide where nut feeders had been laid.)
Next up was the Three Lochs Forest Drive, a somewhat disappointing experience on a rough and dusty road where the view to either side was often just a wall of trees. The highlight was having a picnic overlooking the first loch where a friendly siskin joined us for lunch.
We had time to spare after this and Jill suggested a drive to Loch Katrine which is apparently one of the most picturesque. I punched this into Google maps and off we went. Turning right at Aberfoyle the road became more narrow, a long (very long) single track road with blind bends which were clearly making Jill very nervous (she was driving).
After what seemed an age we reached the end of the road. I’d long since lost my GPS signal and we had a choice of two directions. We took the wrong one. The road became more challenging, and by the time I dug out the road atlas it was obvious that the road we were on terminated at a loch-side hotel. Our only way out was too retrace our steps all the way back to Aberfoyle!
We decided to loiter and have a drink before turning around, but we were delayed by a medical emergency at the hotel. A paramedic was asking everyone to clear the area while a circling helicopter looked for somewhere to land. We spotted a nearby waterfall with steps leading up to a grandstand view. By the time we came back down the drama was over. The helicopter didn’t need to land after all, and it seemed that the crew on the ground were capable of handling the problem.
I offered to drive back and was relieved when Jill accepted. The journey back to base was pretty uneventful, stopping off at Aberfoyle Co-op to pick up some chicken which I turned into a curry using the leftovers of the previous day’s pasta sauce and some thrown together spices.
Thursday 1st July
By now I was covered with insect bites, counting around 28 on my left leg alone. The irritation of this combined with an attack of proctalgia meant a rough night in bed. Eventually I got back to sleep after dosing up with painkillers and didn’t get out of bed until after 10 the next morning.
We decided to stay local and have a more relaxing day; a BBQ in the garden for tea.
Heading off to Drymen to pick up supplies, we called into the pharmacy for advice on anti-midge measures. We then had a half in the Clachan Arms, a very nice and obviously popular pub and restaurant. We booked a table for the following evening and then headed back to the cottage for lunch after picking up a couple of small pies from the butcher’s.
It was no surprise when the wind picked up as we tried to light the barbie. I thought the weather was about to turn but thankfully it remained fine as we drank a few beers and watched the birds on the river. We’d already seen a heron, a few dippers and wagtails, and we were even treated to a flypast from a kingfisher.
Friday 2nd July
There was a threat of rain for our final day in Scotland with a Loch Lomond cruise planned to the island of Inchcailloch. Jeans were donned, but by the time we reached the car park in Luss it was back to shorts again.
The cruise was relaxing with a cooling breeze thanks to our snagging of an upper deck seat. The captain kept people entertained with a running commentary of the history of the area, and treated us to a view of an osprey’s nest where a chick could be seen bobbing up and down for those of us who’d had the foresight to arm ourselves with binoculars.
The island was pretty large, and we started our exploration with a climb up the central path to the summit. It was quite a climb with a stunning view from the top. Then it was back down to sea level for a shoreline picnic. We’d hoped to catch a glimpse of the deer which apparently roamed these many islands and swam between them; but the nearest we got was the announcement by a fellow passenger that they had seen a stag on the low path.
The village of Luss was a beautiful place, and once back on shore we had a wander round its narrow picturesque streets and churchyard. It was the busiest place we’d yet come across with more tourists than residents. We thought about loitering for a drink, but with packing to do for an early Saturday departure (they wanted us out by 9am); we decided to head back to the cottage and enjoyed a beer while filling our bags and boxes.
For our last evening we’d booked a taxi to take us back to the Clachan Arms in Drymen for our meal; it never turned up. We’d agreed to walk down the long drive from the cottage to wait on the main road through the village; fifteen minutes later we were still stood there and it was starting to rain. When Jill rang the driver he was apparently running a little late and would with us in five minutes. Ten minutes later and the rain was getting heavier. On the second call the driver was now apparently lost; despite Jill describing exactly where we were when it was booked, and the fact that Gartness is a tiny hamlet with only one narrow road running through it. We told him not to bother and went back down the driveway to get the car.
Thankfully it didn’t spoil the night. We enjoyed a couple of drinks and a really nice meal rounded off by a couple of whiskies for me (strangely my first of the holiday).
Saturday 3rd July Penrith
We were up early to finish the last of the packing. I’ve no idea why we had to leave so early but the owner put it down to the time required for ‘covid cleaning’. That probably explained the overpowering smell of bleach which hung around the cottage, it only started to disappear on around day five of our occupation.
Rather than getting straight off, we headed to the Devil’s Pulpit in Finnich’s Glen, a short distance from where we’d been staying. This beauty spot’s popularity was down to its being featured in the ‘Outlander’ stories which Jill was a real fan of. She wasn’t so much a fan that she had the courage to descend the steep and slippery steps into the gorge however! I have to confess after going part-way down that I had reservations myself. There was rope to hang onto for the first part, but once this ran out the going looked really tricky with some of the stone blocks already having falling away with sizable drops from one to the next. We opted instead for a wet walk through the surrounding woods, peering down at the braver youngsters below and picking up a whole raft of new midge bites as we went. I ended up with around 40 on my left arm; I had a mind to return the ‘Smidge’ repellent spray that the pharmacy had sold me.
The weather had been superb during our stay, but as I got back behind the wheel to head for an overnight stay in Penrith, the heavens opened. Torrential rain followed us for some time, much like on the journey up the previous Friday. We also had a few detours as we tried to negotiate our way around Glasgow to the motorway. Jill was navigating me to the A66, but kept telling me to take the next left back into the city centre. After going round in circles for 15 minutes she realised the 114 yards to the next turning was actually 114 miles!
By the time we reached the Agricultural hotel we were too tired to bother with having a look around Penrith. Instead we had a couple of beers in the bar to relax, followed by a stroll round the castle ruins which we could see from our room, and then chilled out to prepare for the evening.
We booked a table for a meal (which was excellent), and then moved to another table in the bar where we enjoyed England’s 4-0 thrashing of the Ukraine in the company of a group of singing youngsters. It was a good night all round; followed by the journey home to Hull the next morning.