Thursday, 9 April 2009

Once Upon a Time in The North.

A while ago over coffee Carolina, Rosie, Vandu and myself all made claims (factual as it turned out) that our ancestors were the ancient kings of Scotland, Ireland, Portugal and Wales respectively- Gruffydd ap Llywelyn killed most of his family but ruled the whole of Wales just prior to the Norman conquests, don't you know!

Our collective nobility combined with the fact that the volunteer passes we were awarded from the National Trust for the work we did at Ham last Spring are about to run out meant an inevitable road trip to begin the reclamation of our thrones... so last Saturday we set off on the Scottish leg of the quest to reclaim Carolina's rightful heritage as a direct descendant of Malcolm I!

Things started very well as rookie punter C managed, despite our incredulity and ridicule and purely on the disinterested basis that she liked the name, to back Mon Mome as winner of the Grand National at 125-1 in a Carlisle bookies. V and R's choices came second and third. My picks chosen after length study, during a coffee break at Stafford services, of form, weight, jockey's history and Aintree conditions all fell over before Beechers.

The royal coffers buoyed, we crossed into Galloway and looking for accommodation accidentally fell upon the beautiful ruins of Sweetheart Abbey just south of Dumfries. It was founded by Devorgilla Balliol in 1273 to remember her deceased husband John. She commemorated his name further by founding the famous Oxford college and in a rather morbid act of devotion carrying his embalmed heart around in a box until, on her own death, it and she were reunited with him in a grave in front of the alter.

Sunday after camping a little further down the coast we headed North West up to the cliff hugging splendour of Culzean Castle, full of flintlock pistols and awesome views over the sea towards Arran and the Mull of Kintyre. Lunch in Ayr, a rapid tour of Glasgow and onwards into the Trossachs for a base camp on Loch Lomond.

Monday was mental - my fault. We got up fairly early and headed North for Fort William and the Nevis range, coffee and a brief look round here and on to Loch Ness. We stopped again in Drumnadrocit to take in the Nessie experience, but the myth and the tourism has seen better days and although there are still a million cuddly monsters in tamoshanters sitting on the shelves of the shops the 'life size' fibreglass statue designed for kids to clamber all over is cracked and faded. The town couldn't half do with another sighting.

Late lunch in Inverness and then the madness kicked in. It was only 4pm, I figured. It'd be very cool to drive right up to John O'Groats, I figured. It couldn't be that far, I figured. So off we went. The first road sign said 130 miles... surely a mistake, I figured. Kings of the road laugh in the face of such ridiculous road signs, I figured. Ha Ha Ha, I figured!

Two hours later with the mist rolling in, the car beginning to make funny noises and the other royals beginning to grunt in a cabin fevered disgruntled kind of a way, that the horror of what I'd done hit me. We were clinging to tight mountain bends and the beautiful highland scenery had been replaced by the unattractive flat scrub land of Sutherland and Caithness. A rational - or dare I say smarter - man would have in all humility have turned back, but by now full of foolish determination and all the pride of a twenty first century dozy Cnute (I think that's how you spell it) I dug in and ploughed on. Finally at 7.30pm we turned down a country track and rode into the deserted car park at the end of the country, two hours after all the attractions (a coffee shop, shop and souvenir photographer) had closed for the night. There was nothing to do except for throw the Northern most sulk in Britain, so we did. Even the loos were locked (although we did find a man in a tent who had a key!)

The two hundred and thirty miles back in darkness along the coast, the lochs, and through Glencoe were a further living hell. We got back to camp at 1.30am. John O'Groats is certainly a once in a lifetime experience - I hope it is anyway!

On Tuesday things settled down and we drove across to Perth and then South over the Forth and into Edinburgh, strange and quiet out of festival. We walked the Mile and then onto the extraordinary Rosslyn Chapel (see image) ten miles south.

The Chapel is a jewel and includes the amazing Apprentice's Column, so beautifully carved that it sent the master stone mason into a jealous and murderous rage, killing his brilliant protege. At the far end of the knave are three worn stone bosses of the mason, the apprentice, complete with fatal wound above his left eye, and most movingly the apprentice's grieving mother.

Another carving depicted William the Seemly, who accompanied Carolina's ancestor Queen Margaret to Scotland and was given the baronetcy of Rosslyn as a reward by Malcolm.

We left for England and managed to get to York in time (seconds to spare) to see the Oxford game. A thrilling 0-0 draw! To celebrate our final night on the road we booked into a hotel and had a proper sleep.

...and so the royal progress came to an end with a smashing day in York up and down the medieval streets, taking tea in posh Betty's, a walk along the sandstone city walls above daffodill strewn grassy banks, a look round the Minster and the gorgeous Theatre Royal before finally turning for the M1 and an early evening drive back to London. Tired but very happy.


Rosie said...

York is the best city in Britain! I will never let you live the dream again....we will never do anything as silly as driving halfway to the north pole


Do NOT let him leave the dream...