Scottish Summer

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It is absolutely hammering it down outside and the sky is a uniform grey: uniform, not even 50 shades. This morning there were six or seven families in various types of tent pitched out on the large expanse of grass that makes up the middle of our little caravan park, the 5 roads, here in Alyth. It’s just turned 13.45 and they’re all gone. It won’t be because they have to work tomorrow or get the kids to school because it’s a public holiday and it’s still the summer holidays from school. No, it’s because of the rain. We’ve been here a week and it’s rained every day at some point, even on Tuesday when the temperature peaked at 27 degrees, the hottest day of the year.

To be brutally honest, the weather doesn’t bother us all that much, given where we live most of the time. But we do feel for all the people who spend their lives in Scotland or all those who visit our beautiful country. We’ve met 3 couples from the latter category here on this campsite and they have spoken with resignation about their visit. The first two stayed one night each on their respective tours, both couples sleeping in a wee tent next to their cars. Both had breakfast in those cars as the rain battered their flimsy accommodation to the ground. They both agreed that Scotland is immensely beautiful ……… if you can see it through the stair-rods. Brave faces were to the fore but we could see they were being sorely tested. God bless!

Mary’s Mum is apoplectic about how awful the weather has been. If she can’t get her sheets hung out on the drying-green then it is officially a state of emergency at her house. Given that she finds things to wash which others simply do not perceive, you can take it that she finds herself glued to her Tablet, examining the weather on a half-hourly basis and making advance plans for the next whites or coloureds wash with military precision. She soldiers on with admirable stoicism but we can see how the weather breaks her heart.

The rain has just gone up a further two levels of ferocity here and we are extremely thankful that the Magic Caravan continues to be 100% waterproof. I must admit that we did have some qualms about spending 6 weeks in our first-ever caravan after it has been sitting out at a storage site in Birkhill to the north-west of Dundee. But we have to say that it took no more than a rub down inside and out to restore it to presentable level and once hooked up to the mains we were delighted to find that everything still worked, lights, sockets, fridge, water-pump etc. I have given it a replacement fully-charged battery with new terminals and all is now well with the internal 12v system which should stay topped-up once I have attached the solar-power trickle charger I bought at Maplin’s.

At the 5-Roads campsite

          At the 5-Roads campsite

We arrived here a week ago today after an excellent 8 days in Tayport at Mary’s brother’s house where we looked after their amazing cat Zak while they holidayed down in the Lake District. We enjoyed ourselves on the other side of the River Tay from Dundee and the view back towards the city as we would drive along the coast road from the bridge to Tayport ranks as one of the best we have seen anywhere. Strange how you can travel all around but still be moved by the beauty of a place where you have spent the vast majority of your life. The only near-equivalent I could conjure up was the view of the St. Lawrence River from the Olympic Stadium in Montreal but even then the Tay with the two hills of Dundee in the background wins hands down. Stunning!

Dundee seen from the Tayport road

Dundee seen from the Tayport road

Catching up with the family has taken up most of our time since our return to Scotland. We started with two nights at Scott’s flat in Falkirk after we left Mike and Het’s in Kendal, that being the final stage of our journey home. There then followed 1 night at Mary’s Mum’s (luxury!) then meeting up with George and family for lunch, tea with Greg and Karen in Montrose and a brief stop-off at Gavin’s in Arbroath on our way back to Tayport. We actually went to see where Karen works, a popular stately home near Montrose called The House of Dun and, after a cup of tea at Karen’s café, Greg took us around the ornate gardens which were really beautiful. I think we’ll be going back to visit the interior at some point next month.

Lord and Lady Burton

               Lord and Lady Burton

Out of the blue we found ourselves invited to a wedding reception at the famous Invercarse hotel in Dundee following a conversation between Lady Burton and the new groom, her ex-French Teacher Brian Gould. We had an enjoyable evening dancing both modern and Scottish and we caught up with uncle Gerard who was in attendance along with a smattering of old Dundee teachers.

The groom, Lady Burton and a tramp!

     The groom, Lady Burton and a tramp!

I did the driving that night, mainly because I’m being very good following a spate of high blood-sugar tests. The good news is that my full blood tests came back on Thursday and showed readings lower than last year and such as to cause no concern to the doctor. This was a great relief to both Mary and me and suggested I’m behaving myself (at last!).

On Friday we had my cousins Stef and Renée over for fish and chips in the awning and the weather was kind enough to at least not rain while we were actually eating! They will be reciprocating this evening with dinner at their house in Blairgowrie where we will also get a chance to catch up with their lovely children Ricky and Teresa, both adults and doing well. Yesterday Mary went off in the car – strange, that sounds like she exploded! – to meet with some old school chums in Dundee and three hours later I took the bus to Dundee to meet up with George, Ben, Gavin and Arry to go swimming at the Olympia pool where Scott used to be a lifeguard. I had a wonderful time with our grandchildren, splashing around, getting zoomed around the Rapids, buffeted by the Wave machine and enjoying the thrills (or should that be terror?) of sliding down the green and red flumes. I think I found them fun but maybe my heart thought different!

I’ve firmed up several details for the next few weeks. Next Friday we’re off up the mountains as we always do in early August. Not Lady Burton of course, as the “Munroamers” as we call ourselves is strictly male-only and includes only me and my 4 sons. Unfortunately only three can come with me this year, Greg being the odd-man-out as it’s harvest time on the Estate where he works and he’s needed there. I’ve booked a big static deluxe caravan near Comrie for our accommodation and we’ll be within spitting distance of Ben Vorlich, Stuc a Chroin and Ben Chonzie which are our three target mountains for 2016. On Monday, Mary and I are off up north to visit brother Joe & wife Mo at their house on the banks of Loch Carron. This is becoming an annual pilgrimage and we never fail to have a great time catching up. A small libation may even be taken!

We’ll stay there until Thursday morning then drive back to Dundee for one night before heading to Powburn in Northern England for the annual get-together of Mary’s family at the scout camp. This year, for the first time, we’re going to be taking grandson Ben with us as he’s nearly 5 and will be starting school a week later. But instead of coming home on the Sunday as usual, we’re driving back over to Kendal to help Mike and Het celebrate their joint 60ths! Ben will be there too and I’m sure we’ll have a ball. When we get back to the Magic Caravan on the Monday, we may just have a rest!

Aunt Ellen called two days ago to inform us that uncle Peter (Dad’s wee brother) had passed away in Cardiff at the age of 80 after being ill for a while. I have fond memories of Peter grabbing me around the waist and lifting me up to the ceiling in Grandma’s house in Leeds when I was a wee boy in the early 60s. Our thoughts are with his wife aunt Anne and her children. RIP uncle Peter.

Peter was the brother furthest to the left in the photo on page 73 of “Georgie”, a photo of Dad’s Mum and Dad and all of his siblings. I think uncle Terry and auntie Pat are the only two survivors of that splendid photo. The two memoirs continue to do well both at Waterstones and online at Amazon. I am busy having “Wee Georgie” reprinted yet again (200 more this time) and I suspect it won’t be the last. I have a signing at Waterstones in Dundee on 13 August, my third such event and once again they asked me, not the other way around. Slowly but surely I am beginning to feel the urge to write again so you never know what I’ll be telling you in the next post. Disappointingly, book 2 of Socrates the Snail remains frustratingly unillustrated and I can’t seem to find a reliable artist anywhere who can meet a deadline. Do you know anyone who might do the job for me?

Well that’s us up-to-date today. It hasn’t actually stopped raining but at least Ginger baker is no longer practising his favourite drum-solo on the roof of the Magic Caravan. I leave you with Arry and Ben post-swim. Wonderful, but then again I AM their granddad!

Uber-cute!

                Uber-cute!

Just at the last second before I posted this, I’ve received the first photo of Fred and Jeanette’s new motorhome. I wish them all the possible joys in their new abode!

Absolute luxury!

                Absolute luxury!

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Home Again

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Preparing to leave.

                       Preparing to leave.

Once again, we’re back home for the summer. Well not exactly “home” as that implies we’re back in our flat which we aren’t. That’s because it is still being rented out, so we’ve come back to Scott’s flat in Stenhousemuir. We’ll only be here a couple of nights before moving to Mary’s brother’s house in Tayport while they’re away on holiday. Then we plan to have 2 weeks in the magic caravan on a site in Alyth. That’s the theory anyway!

We left Vilanova last Friday morning and drove up into France before heading inland at Béziers on the A75. This road passes over the famous Millau Viaduct, the highest in the world, which we’ve crossed 4 times now. It’s a splendid sight indeed and we managed an on-the-move shot for you to see.

Nice, eh?

                       Nice, eh?

After that it was up, up, up to 3500 feet and back down again leaving us at our first stop which as usual was the Ibis Budget hotel in Clermont-Ferrand. We use this hotel whenever we can as it’s ideal for travellers with lots of facilities all within walking distance of it. This time we decided to have our evening meal in an Irish pub a short distance away and it turned out to be a great choice as both the food and drink were excellent and the prices, while dearer than Spain, were not ridiculous.

After a good night’s rest, we filled up with diesel and headed for Paris (not the city, just the region) which always holds a few surprises for us the nearer we get, as the traffic slowly but surely builds up the closer you come to the city itself. But, having somewhat stumbled via the navigator on Mary’s iPhone onto a big Route Nationale, we crept into the outskirts at Creteil (Thierry Garnier and his family weren’t in!) – that will only be funny to someone who studied French with Tour de France book – slid underneath the runway at Paris Charles de Gaulle airport, before bolting away from the chaos to much quieter roads leading north out of the French capital.

Our second Ibis Budget hotel was in the little town of Noyon, about two hours from Calais, so just about in the perfect spot to stay before crossing back to the UK. It even had a McDonald’s opposite it which made choosing where to have tea an awful lot easier than it could have. One triple cheeseburger and chicken wrap later (guess who had what!?) I was in the room watching the Germany v Italy quarter final game while Lady Burton surprised us all by reading a book!

After a spot of continental breakfast on Sunday morning, we had a very pleasant drive up to the Tunnel Terminal at Sangatte where the hordes of refugees throwing bricks, as prophesized by our neighbours back in Vilanova, totally failed to materialize, leaving us to peer through the miles of scary razor wire to see if we could clock even one such person. No luck – they had obviously packed their bags and gone home! Half an hour later and we drove back onto British soil for the first time in 10 months. The Audi remembered to stick to the left which was just as well because I barely gave it a thought.

Our first task was to drive to Ashford International Train Station, which you should all note is NOT the Tunnel Terminal, to seek out one of Mary’s colleagues from Global Connect in Vilanova. She was meeting us there to collect her dismantled bicycle which we had brought to her in the back seat of the car (yes, honestly!). So, she got her bike back and we got a thank-you card and a bottle of wine. After the bye-byes, Victoria steered us back to the M20 which led us to the Dartford tunnel underneath the Thames.

Now, this crossing has changed recently. You probably know the tunnel is North only these days while the traffic heading South uses the Dartford bridge only built a few years back. But you might not know that the toll-booths have gone! Before you start celebrating a saving of £2.50 on the crossing, I should point out that you still have to pay, except now you do it online or at one of those pay-points you see in shops and post-offices. You can pay in advance as I did or pay within 24 hours of crossing, after which they slap a nice big fine on you. I even bought 2 crossings as they last up to a year from the date of purchase and will probably use it when we go back.

Once the Dartford tunnel and the horrendous M25 were behind us, it was plain driving up the M11 and A1M to Leeds and Terry and Ellen’s. We got there on the stroke of five, at the exact same time as cousin Angela and her family whom I saw greeting cousins Gillian and David and family. My God, they were all going to have dinner with us! What a splendid surprise that was and we had a great catch-up at the dinner table. Uncle Terry was looking 100 times better than when we’d seen him last September and he told us he is getting over his various challenges slowly but surely. Auntie Ellen was as ever quite wonderful and she served 14 of us with a feast fit for a family of Burtons.

The Brexit vote dominated the conversation and we were delighted to learn that the family were like us sad and embarrassed by the result to leave and even more so in the immediate aftermath when it emerged the Brexiteers didn’t have a clue what to do next! Let’s hope common sense takes over and some really intelligent people find themselves at the helm of our country because we are going to need true statesmanship from now on and an end to the self-seeking, arrogant so-called politicians on all sides who are happy to bring the country to its knees as long as they do well from it. Rant over!

A good sleep, a slap-up breakfast and we were off again, but this time a relatively short distance to Malham in the Yorkshire Dales near Skipton where we had arranged to meet our dear friends Het and Mike Farrington from Kendal. It was brilliant seeing them again back here and we had a lovely time walking around 2 particularly popular spots in that area as well as enjoying a picnic they had kindly prepared for us. The weather held for most of the afternoon but then turned decidedly British towards four o’clock, calling for waterproofs and coats, but it failed to spoil a delightful afternoon in the English countryside.

Malham Cove

                     Malham Cove

The other place, whose name escapes me!

The other place, whose name escapes me!

Same place

                       Same place

We finished our walk with a cup of Yorkshire tea bought at a nearby caravan café and we all seemed to be well happy with our day as you can see.

Me, Mary, Mike & Het

                       Me, Mary, Mike & Het

That evening, our hosts served us up a delicious healthy meal, sensitive to my new regime. They were there at the campsite the evening I took a wobbly so they knew what it was all about as regards my diet these days. Well done, my friends. We gossiped until our eyes were all closing then got off to bed for a welcome sleep and long lie. The following day we went for lunch in a place called Staveley at a café where Mike’s sister works. Incredibly, this is the exact same place Mary’s brother Bruce and his family are coming on holiday next week!

The bridge over the Kent

           The bridge over the Kent

After a short stroll we headed back to Kendal where the girls went shopping in town while Mike and I checked out a couple of hostelries. We chanced upon a rather cheeky pint of Theakston’s IPA which was so good that even Lady Burton had a half-pint when the girls eventually joined us. Mike and I also strolled around Kendal while he pointed out all the damage caused by the terrible flooding of last winter. I’m glad to say the town has recovered well and most of the damage has been put to good. We stopped by a huge bike shop to let him have a look around and I spotted a strange sight which Mike assured me is a perfectly functioning bicycle. Does this look OK to you?

No front fork?

                  No front fork?

Then it was back to their house, a few laughs, dinner (Mike burned the Yorkshire puddings which could then double as Frisbees!) and bed. The following morning was seriously downbeat, a late full English breakfast, a couple of hugs then back on the road, this time to Scotland.

A glorious sicht!

         A glorious sicht!

So that’s it. We’re back for 2 months, culminating in Greg and Karen’s wedding on 2 September. We’ll be busy no doubt but the time will fly in and before we know it we’ll be back on the road to the other place we call home. Exciting, isn’t it? I leave you with something that made us smile while down in Yorkshire.

A woolly jumper!

                      A woolly jumper!