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Road Trippin'

with Steve McCarthy

Always expect the unexpected (St. Serendipity: 1:1). It's not a suggestion, it's a dictum. Worries about the starter motor in the TR led to a 5AM epiphany that a logical backup plan would be to take the ferry from Ireland to Holyhead in Wales, forgoing the trip up to the North, and, if we still had problems, head across England to Lincoln and Rimmer Brothers. Evidently, THEY are the go to guys for Auld Brit Car Parts in the UK. Got a man from the hotel to help me push start it (thank the gods of motoring for the electric fuel pump, it could prime the Webers) and she fired right up. Bags loaded, the guy pushed us again (I forced a 20 Euro note on him, for meritorious service above and beyond) and we were off to Ferry Land.

For once, "Sean the GPS" figured his way around Dublin (Sean has a problem with European cities. Can't blame him, since they like to change street names every block or so. It's ridiculous) and to the port. We told the guys that we'd like to be loaded towards the back of the queue in case. When it got time to load, the Blue Meanie fired right up! AMAZING! We trundled aboard and left it safely stowed, and headed aloft to the fancy "Club Room". BTW, we'd opted for Irish Ferries, rather than the other guys for two reasons. Top Tip: Take the fast ferry (the "Jonathan SWIFT, nudge nudge, get it?) between Dublin and Holyhead! Under two hours, pop for the "Club". It gets you priority boarding and unloading. The other advantage is that it's a smaller ship so fewer screaming kids and no serious traffic jam out of the port. And I'll tell you, Holyhead is not laid out for the heavy traffic! BTW, the Meanie fired right up again, and again, and again. So, no need for a new one. PHEW. I think the battery was just too low from sitting. Again, PHEW.

So, off to The North. That's what the signs say. The North. As if it's another planet. We cruised through northern Wales, puzzling at the incomprehensible signs (go ahead, Wales, seen the money, buy some vowels!). About noonish, we were getting hungry and asked Sean for a place. We just picked something random and wound up headed to the shores of the Mersey to Parkgate/Neston and the Boathouse. Great example of a classic Inn/Pub/Restaurant. Good food and great staff.

From there, things went sideway a bit. Sean, the Not So Reliable in Cities, got us ALL turned around in Liverpool. Took a good hour to sort it out and back to the motorway. DID see some interesting (to say the least) old suburbs of 'Pool. Finally, back on the highway and to The North. OK, yeah, I know, we planned to shun motorways. But, sometimes, necessity can be a mother. The views along the way were great, far better than the I-5! We stopped for gas and a pee in Lancaster, then for the night at the edge of Carlisle. Premier Inn is a cut or two above Motel Six. Decent, moderate prices, and always with a decent, if uninspired restaurant. Serviceable in a pinch. Up early to breakfast and a steady rain. Now we'd see if all our foul weather planning would work.

It took us a bit to get loaded and fed, just in time for a heavy cell to pass through, and by the time we'd properly girded our loins, it had mostly stopped. Timing is indeed everything. So, rain gear on, we headed out. Off and on rain as we headed North, and just as we passed the big sign "Welcome to Scotland" the rain stopped! No kidding! We wound through the outskirts of Glasgow, and found the road past Loch Lomand. Yes, the banks are bonnie and we took what ever road we could, high or low. The scenery in Scotland is spectacular. Even in the off and on rain. The good part was that we were almost warm and totally dry, until I got a good douche of water on my right foot. Don't ask me how, but the TR is a leaky old tub.

About 11AM we were getting hungry and we chanced upon a great roadside inn "The Bridge of Orchy Hotel" in the town The Bridge of Orchy. In fact, as far as I could tell, it WAS the town of Bridge of Orchy. Seems the place is a hangout for German hikers. they were all over the place. Inside, it's well restored and updated. The food was great. We spit the Haggis with Neeps and Tatties. It came shaped like a Scot's Bonnet, Neeps on the bottom, a layer of Haggis, then the Tatties, all covered in a nice gravy and topped with a deep fried rubbing of Haggis. Forget all the jokes about haggis, will ya? It's sausage. Lamb sausage with some oatmeal in it. It's good.

We were now heading seriously into the Highlands and the scenery brings tears to the eye! Literally. Driving through Glencoe made the entire trip worth it. I have GoPro video that I'll download when I get a strong enough internet connection. It may not be until we get home, but, it's just WOW!

Past Ft. William and you are officially in the highlands. One of the neat things along the way are a series of locks for boats going down the river Ness from one loch to another. Yeah, Loch Lock. No, didn't spot any rastas about, so no dreadlocks on the loch locks. It also made me wonder if any of the Keyes family were about, and I could go on.

At Ft. Augustus, which looks like a neat little town worth exploring (at this point, we were both trying to get back on our "schedule" to make Edinburgh and our BnB reservations by Friday AND to meet up with Peter Bakke, a FB friend who was driving up from Aberdeen. The idea was to meet in Drumdronnach, near Urquhart Castle, on Loch Ness, but…

Traffic came to a dead stop. People were out of their cars, some turned around. We waited (it wasn't raining, so why not) and eventually, we were allowed to creep past a VERY BAD week. A motorcyclist had managed to roll his bike into a ball. uh oh…

Past that, we cruised along, sobered, to Invermorritson. There, the remainder of the road was blocked for another bad one. uh oh…Finally, we drove back to Ft. Augustus, texting Peter to meet us in Inverness, we'd look for a hotel. In Ft. Augustus, we took the old General Wade Military Road, built to tame those nasty wild clansmen of the North back in the 1700s. Bill Morgan had told us this was a neat road, he and his son Patrick bicycled it back in '89.

Yeah, it's a neat road. It's also mostly a single track one lane two way road. With a 60 mph speed limit. Normally, that would be fine. but now, it was being used as a bypass for the closed main road. both ways. Truck and buses! And lots of cars, many of whom thought 60mph speed limit was the appropriate speed. Now, constant readers know that I don't hang about on the backroads. But DAMN! Now I truly understand why Jimmy Clark and Jackie Stewart were such great race drivers! The secret was to get BEHIND someone, and let THEM confront the on coming traffic for who's move into the weeds or wait at the occasional passing point. There are no rules to this game, You either stop if you're first to the wide spot or let them stop or move over, SO glad the Meanie is a NARROW car! Finally, we hit the outskirts and Sean the Fallable did his act again. Inverness traffic is the worst we've run into. Nothing like medieval narrow two way streets where people park along the way. CRAZY! Finally, we headed to the south end of town to meet Peter. We'd found another Premier Inn and pulled in there. Nope, no rooms. None. So, off to a Jury's. Same there. Madly texting back and forth, we finally met Peter there. Seems the whole city was full. Yes, folks, there was no room at the INNverness. sigh.

Peter graciously led us to a small coastal town called Ardersier. GREAT looking old time Inn, the Gun Club. Nope. Off to Nairn, the next town along. FINALLY got a room, the last one at another old Inn, the Havelock. Great Funky Place. Bar food was ok, room was, well, odd. Like so many of these places, modifications have been made to update them with "en suite" facilities. The floor was uneven under the carpet, the bed creaked, we didn't care. By the way, we'd arrived about 8:30 PM! Remember when I said we'd gotten up about 5AM? Yeah, we were knackered! About 300 miles plus a ferry ride. WHAT A DAY!

The next day was more like it. Nice breakfast and a view of the Moray Firth, then off towards Aberdeen. First stop was the first distillery we spotted. Benronnach. Very small place. Great tour. George, the guide was a hoot, mon. Good details on the ins and outs of whisky making. Then the tasting. And I realized the folly of my plan. It's hard enough driving the Blue Meanie on the wrong side of the roads and doing gladiatorial combat in the roundabouts. To do it with a nice dram of whisky in you? No way. Especially as George pointed out that the ONE WEE DRAM they were offering would almost automatically put me over the limit in Scotland! DAMN! That and the fact that NONE of the distilleries can ship to the US. Fecking customs laws! Still, it was worth the taste.

Following that it was Castle Hunting Time. Marianne's ancestors seem to have had a BUNCH of castles around Scotland. First up should be passed down to our kids for obvious reasons. Duffus Castle. Yep, just for them. It's a neat place but since we were supposed to meet someone at Glenfiddich, we had to press on.

At Glenfiddich, somehow we missed connections. Ironically with Fiona, wife of the Saintly Peter of the day before. BTW, he got to Carlisle OK. We hung around an found out that they have a nice cafe. So, a plate of excellent meats and cheeses (venison, salmon, and local cheddars, bries, and bleus), I got smart and did a quick internet search for a place to stay in Aberdeen. hotels.com. Great stuff. I found the Palm Court and booked a room.

Place was not too difficult to find, even for Sean the Wanderer, and we spent a pleasant night, ate a good dinner and breakfast and were off.

As soon as we could, we got off the motorway and followed the Coast Route. OK, Scotland, this stretch of coast is spectacular. Right up there with CA1. But with a castle! Honest to God great castle ruin, called Dunnottar. Lots of films were done there (it served as the model for "Brave"). This place is amazing. Lots of history too. We chatted with the grounds keeper and he was a font of inspiration. William Wallace attacked the place and the English garrison holed up in the brand new chapel. They refused to come out, so he burned it, and most of them. It was also where the Scottish Crown was hidden from Cromwell during the English Civil War. Yeah, Ollie is the guy that wrecked the place!

We trundled down the coast a bit until we got to Arbroath. Traffic is terrible, too many damn roundabouts, and the thing that really wrecked the place? Lots and Lots of churches. Yes, Too Many Kirks Spoiled Arbroath. We got back on the motorway to Edinburgh, and once over the second of the Forth Bridges (there's a new one being built and of course, there's the old Victorian Monster Iron Railway Bridge) over the Firth. You need a Fifth just thinking this through.

Following the usual Sean Foolery trying to get around in Edinburgh traffic, we finally landed where we belonged, the Sherwood Guest House.

Next installment we'll tell you about Auld Reeky, the Royal Mile, Kilt shopping and whatever else happens.