Roadtripping around the UK

The advantage of having friends that live in exotic places is that every now and then you need to take a week off from work to go visit them. So it was that at the beginning of May Steve and I went to see Judith on the isle Skye to revisit some late Leiden nights with food, music and whisky. Even getting to Skye was already a surreal experience because you just drive through this gorgeous landscape where there’s just nothing there except for mountains, lochs and fabulous views around every corner. As it was getting late we meant to stop for some food, but there just wasn’t any place to stop, so we subsisted on “drop” and granola bars until we arrived at the Skye backpackers hostel in Kyleakin (a.k.a. Judith’s place). Lucky for us she had foreseen our bad food organisational skills so she’d gotten some bread and awesome hummus for us 🙂 After dinner we got to see some of Kyleakin’s nightlife, and then we caught up by the fire with cups of tea.

On Sunday we went to climb a mountain! The mountain is called Blà Bheinn and it’s 928 metres, although it also has a 924m peak, which was high enough (and I even didn’t go for the last scramble so I got up to only 875 metres or so, but that’s still high enough for someone who is used to being below sea level). Anyway, after a slow start (we forgot toilet paper at our first checkout at the grocery store) we were on our way. We first had to walk a few miles along some slightly hilly landscape in order to get to the actual foot of the mountain, gawk at the amazing views after every hump, and of course stop and have lunch.

Walking to the mountain
Lunch

After lunch we started ascending the mountain. As we were talking a lot and taking loads of pictures we kind of lost the path a little bit, so we scrambled straight up through the grass till we were rewarded with some gorgeous views from a plateau.

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View from plateau at around 350m

At some point, after consulting the map and doing some bad-ass rockclimbing (OK, mainly Steve and Judith while I was trying to find easier routes up) we found the path again.

p5020094Although the weather had been superb up until then, while we were up we saw some rainclouds coming in, or hail clouds to be more precise.

Clouds coming in from the Black Cuillins

So instead of going down in our t-shirts (or well, the t-shirt-jumper-t-shirt-jumper changing show) we now went for water resistant jackets and hoodies because it was a bit colder and wetter than earlier on in the day. But still amazingly beautiful. Perhaps even more so, but it’s hard to say, as every season probably looks magical up there.

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Anyway, all the colours changed, as well as the light, and down in the valley, when the sky started to clear we even got to witness the sun burst through the clouds again.

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When we got to the car, we changed into some dry clothes and drove to Portree to have some (Indian) food and meet up for drinks with Arthur. Unfortunately he had to work so he hadn’t been able to climb with us, so we drank tea til late and he promised to come down to Kyleakin the next day.

The next day, our legs hurt from the 8-hour hike the day before, so we took it easy and went for a short stroll and a long picnic up on the Quiraing, a place with totally different scene, but equally breathtaking.

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p5030169The interesting thing about this place is that it’s still alive; you can just see that some of the boulders that are scattered around have only come down recently (a friend of Judith’s told us later in the pub that he’d once seen a bunch of rubble come down and it was the scariest thing ever). Luckily for us they weren’t moving noticeably that day, so we got to one of Judith’s favourite camping spots and just sat in the soft moss with our biscuits, chocolate and ‘water’.

On the way back to Kyleakin we did a short detour by the Faerie Glen. As every loch or pile of rocks on Skye has a story, this place has a bunch, ranging from stories of people having seen flags on the castle shaped rock to a story of a man who went to live there against the fairies wishes and well..it didn’t end well.

Faerie Glen

True stories or not, the place has something magical. The grass is a beautiful shade of green (no doubt being well maintained by the sheep dung), and the shapes of the miniature hills are very special. Also, the place is so quiet. Well, the other places we visited outside the towns were superquiet too, except for the sounds made by sheep and birds, which is just something entirely impossible in the Netherlands. Very cool. After we each climbed and descended our own hills, we went back to Kyleakin and had a nice hostel-cooked dinner (pasta with salmon, spinach and cream sauce and a splendid apple crumble with rhubarb yogurt for dessert) at which we were accompanied by Arthur and Neill.

On Tuesday we went to the mainland to the fisherman village Plockton for some excellent sea food and then on to Applecross via the steepest road in the UK. Back in Kyleakin we went to Saucy Mary’s to watch an ubercool local band, mix with backpackers, fishermen, tourbus drivers and dance. 🙂

On Wednesday we lingered around for as long as we could, drinking lots of tea, but at quarter to four we really had to say goodbye to Judith, to start making our way to Balbeggie, near Perth, near Edinburgh, where Alan lives. We took a different route this time, past Glen Coe, as well as a bunch of places whose names I’d thus far only seen on whisky labels instead of on street signs. We were lucky again when we got to Alan’s as he cooked us some nice pasta after which we showed him the pics of our trip onto Blà Bheinn, and started planning a camping trip back to Skye with climbing ropes 🙂

As we hadn’t told Alan that far in advance that we were coming he’d been unable to take time off, so we decided to go explore Edinburgh on Thursday while he was at work. I like Edinburgh a lot. Especially the little alleyways that may lead you halfway down a hill. p5060333Perhaps because I’m used to being below sea level, I always feel the urge to take any opportunity that arises to get above sea level. And since Edinburgh is hilly, and there is a fairly decent sized hill for a city trot on the east side of the city centre, we climbed it. Getting out of Edinburgh was a pain because it was rush hour, but we got out and when we got to Alan’s place dinner was ready (mac and cheese :D). After dinner we went to see some of Alan’s friends who live on an estate owned by a guy who wants to turn it into a nature reserve more or less. So we had a walk around the loch and woodlands.

p5060352After some more tea, we headed back to Balbeggie to get some sleep for the next day, which would be a big drive down to Malvern (606km). The drive was even longer than anticipated because of some major roadworks, but fortunately we had two iPods full of excellent music (if I may say so myself) and luckily it wasn’t raining or icy (actually the weather had been quite splendid all week).

It was good to be back in Malvern, as a bonus even the bluebells were still in bloom.

Bluebells on Malvern Hills

As always Heather’s food was superb, the dogs were crazy, and Dave got me hooked on a new computer game (Osmos). Sadly, I couldn’t stay very long, because on Sunday I was flying back to the Netherlands. So around 10:30, I left Malvern to go to Birmingham airport, and I managed to get the fuel tank as empty as possible (OK, I was getting a little bit nervous when there was only one little bar left on the dashboard, but I made it) and got back to Amsterdam without any delays. There Paul was waiting for me at the airport and we took a train to Roosendaal, where we were picked up by my parents to have dinner with my grandmother: an excellent end to a perfect week.