Aug 282011
 
Urquhart Castle

My wife and I have recently returned from a week in the Loch Ness area of Scotland. We booked a shed in the woods in Glen Urquhart not far from Drumnadrochit, home to Nessieland. The place also boasts not one, but two, Loch Ness/Nessie exhibitions and associated Nessie shops as well as providing Nessie hunting boat trips on the loch.

The contrast between the two exhibitions was interesting. The first was basically a cinema style presentation with some panels of press cuttings and other “historical evidence”. All squarely aimed at promoting the mystery of the Loch Ness Monster before ejecting you into the shop to buy any manner of Nessie tat. What became apparent later was not what the exhibition presented, but what it chose not to tell you.

The second exhibition was a walk from room to room audio visual type of presentation but the slant was far more scientific and did all but blow the story out the water until the last room when things reverted to rhetorical evidence before ejecting you into the shop to buy any manner of Nessie tat. The Scottish Tourist Board and the people who rely on them aren’t going to do anything to dispel the myth completely, you could tell by the queues it’s bringing in millions.

While my stance is that there is plainly no such thing as the Loch Ness Monster it doesn’t alter the fact that I still like the idea of there being one and this is what gives this or any other legend, its longevity and appeal. We still want it to be true even when everything tells us it isn’t. You couldn’t destroy the myth even if you wanted to.

Loch Ness

Loch Ness

While you may consider it a bit of harmless fun I think the whole Nessie thing has a downside as it detracts from the many other reasons for visiting the area. Loch Ness may or may not have a monster lurking in its depths, it’s really irrelevant as it certainly doesn’t need one.

Divach Falls

Divach Falls

The whole of the Great Glen in which Loch Ness sits is scenic but Loch Ness is stunningly beautiful. We had the good fortune to have pretty mixed weather during our stay, which is probably the norm for a British summer but the changing sky scape meant the views down the loch could be really quite dramatic and beyond capture by any camera lens.

Around the loch the steep sides of the valley provide many vantage points to enjoy the scenery and you can still get easily away from the crowds of tourists into the woods and find hidden waterfalls, prehistoric sties, stately homes and gardens. The shoreline is littered with little villages and hamlets as well as the tourist magnets of Fort Augustus and Urquhart Castle and the obligatory whiskey distilleries.

If you haven’t been to the Loch Ness area I highly recommend you go, but don’t just go looking for monsters, there’s far more to see.

May 032011
 
Puffins

Back in harness today. It doesn’t take long for the daily routine to reclaim your soul and file away the events of the holiday in the memories file, but before I close the file drawer I’ll share some of my thoughts and observations on my week in Northumbria.

When we describe something we generally do so by comparing it to something else we already know well. So where The Lake District is very green, hilly and sparsely populated and the locals speak with a funny accent (mainly Polish). Northumbria is very green, hilly and sparsely populated and the locals speak with a funny accent (mainly Polish). The differences are that Northumbrian roads are straighter. Northumbria has more castles and fewer lakes. The Lake District fills up with tourists, Northumbria doesn’t.

On the roads, it’s very easy to tell the locals from the tourists. The tourists are the one’s belting along the straight country roads at sixty miles an hour. The locals are the ones overtaking them. Northumbria has a spectacular array of wildlife and you get to see most of it in more detail than you would like, splattered in the middle of the road.

Bamburgh Castle

Bamburgh Castle

The number of Castles left in Northumbria is impressive. Whilst many are ruins, some are still maintained and lived in today. Having spent a week in an area with so many of them, I’ve been able to discern that a castle has a sound that resonates across the landscape. It goes something like “cha-ching!” If you have a love of the medieval and deep pockets then Northumbria’s the place to visit. Special mention must go to Bamburgh Castle which is fascinating while not being overpriced thanks to having avoided the clutches of the National Trust or English Heritage.

It’s fair to say that on the whole Northumbria is predominantly unspoilt countryside, ideal for walking and other out-doorsie type pursuits. This also means a lack of big tourist attractions, so those that exist become swamped when the sun shines. Two most noticeable places where this phenomenon is seen are Holy Island (Lindisfarne) which is famous for its Priory and its Castle (cha-ching!) and the Farne Islands, famous for its wildlife, especially Puffins and Seals.

Holy Island Causeway

Holy Island Causeway

Holy Island is accessed by a causeway which can be crossed inside a seven hour window when the tide is out. Wherever you go in Northumbria there are dire warnings of the dangers of crossing outside the published times and huts on stilts are provided as refuges for anyone foolish enough to try. When you arrive at the large tourist car-park on the outskirts of the village you are met by the shuttle bus which, for a small fee, will drop you at various sites providing opportunities for you to further exercise your wallet. Having driven across the causeway I can’t help thinking that it would take relatively little effort to raise the road a little and remove the obstacle to transport. However doing so would make Lindisfarne just another Northumbrian village with a castle and spoil a very efficient tourist cash machine.

Puffins

Farne Island Puffins

Seahouses consists of a small harbour surrounded by Car Parks, Pubs, Gift shops and Fish and Chip restaurants which are in turn surrounded by Caravan sites. This is the gateway to the Farne Islands where a steady flow of tourists park their cars. Buy a ticket for a small boat to take them on a trip around the islands. On their return they will buy some seaside tat with a Puffin or a Seal on it and have a chippie tea before heading home. The order this happens may vary according the sailing times but otherwise it’s pretty much a production line. That said, having “done” the Farne Islands the wildlife and landscape is spectacular regardless of the process by which you get there and I’d recommend it to anyone.

Northumbria is nice, very nice. If more people were to go to Northumbria, the Lake District would be even better… please do go and see for yourself.