Friday, July 20, 2007

Scottish Tour July 2007

New Lanark

There must be something about Scotland that makes me want to blog as I haven't blogged since my last trip to Scotland in February!!!

Saturday, 14th July 2007 saw the realisation of a long held ambition. Yesterday we travelled north of the border, and today we find ourselves visiting the site of Robert Owen’s mills at New Lanark where he created a community for his workers with conditions and a lifestyle that was to inspire Bourneville, Saltaire and the Co-Operative movement. We took delight in visiting the classroom where Owen commenced the first ever infant school, the village store and the housing, which allowed us a glimpse of life in both the 1930’s and the early nineteenth century. There was an opportunity to actually see the threads being spun on 19th Century working textile machinery, and to see a large water mill of the type that powered the mills. We had a delightful walk along the riverside upstream to the Falls of Clyde. Robert Owen has been a hero of mine and I loved this opportunity to see first hand where he commenced a revolution!

Last night we stayed not far from New Lanark at Abington, but tonight we shall be staying at the Caledonian in Beauly just outside Inverness.

Exploring Scotland’s North East Coast

A sunny Sunday morning found us taking the road out to the Black Isle following the coastline out to Cromarty the picturesque village at the eastern end its name immortalised by the shipping forecast. In the sunshine the roads winding beside the water were calm and peaceful. Leaving the Black Isle we headed to Dornoch and spent a pleasant hour sitting outside a street café in the sunshine, eating our Caesar salad and ice-cream, and having a read of the Sunday papers. On the road again to Dunrobin Castle, which was magnificent inside and had outstanding formal gardens with views to the sea. We continued north to Helmsdale before leaving the coast and taking the interior single track road through the mountains and across the heaths and marshes. Wild and remote, this road brought us spectacular scenery and vast horizons for over forty miles before we arrived in Thurso on the north coast.

Wet and Wild

That’s how we would describe the weather today (Monday, 16th July) as we explored the north eastern corner of Scotland. From Dunnet Head, the most northerly tip of mainland Britain, around to Wick via John O’Groats. The most outstanding visit of the day was to the Castle of Mey, the only property actually owned by the Queen Mother. We found ourselves enchanted by the Queen Mother as we caught a glimpse into her private life even down to her tastes in music and comedy, viewing some of her c.d., record and video collection. What a warm inviting and friendly home, an experience enhanced by guides who were knowledgeable, enthusiastic and very friendly. We lunched in the brand new visitor centre, which is to be officially opened by Prince Charles in August. We were lucky to be able to visit the castle as Charles and Camilla were due to arrive on the 19th July. Finally mention must be made of the walled gardens built in this most bleak position but which with careful management produce an abundance of flowers and vegetables. My camera was clicking away at the blooms!

In the midst of the wild wetness near Wick we did visit the Lyth Arts Centre. This beautifully equipped exhibition centre and theatre seems almost surreal in this bleak position. It was hosting an excellent art and photographic exhibition but this appears to change at night into a vibrant jazz and music venue.

Back to the hotel for a beautiful monkfish dinner, which seemed to even surpass the Orkney salmon of last night!

Scotch Mist, Showers and Sunshine

Tuesday 17th July started in a fog shrouded Thurso. Today has been a travelling day, and slipping south down the A9 we left behind the fog moving into the cloudy sunshine of the east coast, and soon found ourselves once again sipping cappuccino’s and eating amaretto ice-cream outside the café in Dornoch. Once past Inverness we headed towards Fort William along the banks of a monsterless Loch Ness, taking in beautiful scenery both in sunshine and in showers. Through Fort William we climbed into Glen Coe for a touch of the sublime, where once again within in the space of a few minutes we experienced bright sunshine, and lashing rain followed by bright sunshine again, all of which seemed to enhance the vast moodiness of the location. Across bleak Rannoch Moor we eventually made our way along the sides of sparkling Loch Lomond, arriving in a sunny Glasgow where we shall spend two nights!

Mackintosh Magic!

This morning Wednesday 18th July we found ourselves visiting The Glasgow School of Art, which was designed and built by Charles Rennie Mackintosh. The building was filled with many of his designs and motives, many pieces of his furniture and original architectural innovations. Our tour guide was a vivacious, enthusiastic young lady, and really brought the Art School to life. It was worth climbing the hill to visit. From here we walked down to Glasgow’s Sauchiehall Street to visit the Willow Tea Rooms, which is over Henderson’s Jewellers. We were fortunate that the gallery café was full and so were invited to go upstairs to the Room de Luxe with a beautiful bow window, dazzling leaded mirror friezes, ornate doors and Mackintosh furniture for our lentil soup and china rose petal tea!

Refreshed we enjoyed the sunshine in George Square before boarding an open topped tour bus to ride the streets of Glasgow.

More magic was in store in the evening, as we joined the crowds going to see the latest Harry Potter film. Very good!


After our breakfast and paying our dues we packed the car and bid farewell to Glasgow. Heading south we travelled through the Borders following the River Tweed, this included a brief stop in Melrose (a town that briefly figured in Mum’s life) for a cup of coffee from our flask. The road eventually led us to Holy Island a much-loved spot and a retreat from the hustle and bustle of the last two days in Glasgow. We drove across the causeway during the afternoon, the tide out and the sand and mud banks exposed. But soon after five o’clock the incoming tide cut us off, and there was no escape from the beauty and the quietness. We walked part of the shoreline, visiting the Priory and the harbour, and enjoyed a superb meal in our hotel. Tonight we sleep in a four-poster bed, with a view encompassing the harbour and the two castles, Lindisfarne and Bamburgh. Tomorrow…………..we go home!

Harbour and Home

After a disgustingly large breakfast we sought to redeem the situation by walking out past the harbour to Lindisfarne Castle. We chose the right time as we encountered nothing more than a little light drizzle and enjoyed the air, the sea, and the spectacular scenery. Returning we purchased fresh crab and prawns for our journey home, and after a delightful cappucino it was time to bid farewell to this beautiful island retreat and return home.

Just a few interesting statistics! We travelled 1,389 miles, at an average speed of 41 mph, with an average fuel consumption of 51.5 mpg. Our total driving time was 34 hours and 31 minutes. We stayed in five separate hotels and ate too many calories!!!!!

Monday, February 12, 2007

Awesome Awe!

Just back from spending a few days (5th - 9th February) in Scotland at the Loch Awe Hotel perched on the banks of Loch Awe and surrounded by stunning scenery. (panoramic view here). Whilst most of Britain seems to have been covered in snow, rain and fog, we enjoyed cold, bright, sunny days at our Highland destination and whilst riding the Oban to Mull ferry and back, cruising on Loch Lomond, and travelling along the windy lochside roads. A dusting of snow added to our crossing the bleak Rannock Moor and passing through Glen Coe, accompanied by the haunting ballad of the infamous Glen Coe massacre.

O cruel is the snow that sweeps Glencoe
And covers the grave of Donald
And cruel was the foe that raped Glencoe
And murdered the house o' Macdonald.
They came in a blizzard, we offered them heat,
A roof o'er their heads, dry shoes for their feet.
We wined them, dined them, they ate of our meat,
And slept in the house o' Macdonald.
Chorus :
And cruel is the snow that swept Glencoe
And covers the grave of Donald
And cruel was the foe that raped Glencoe
And murdered the house o' Macdonald.

They came from Fort William with murder in mind,
The Campbells had orders, King William had signed.
Put all to the sword, these words underlined,
And leave non alive called Macdonald.
They came in the night when our men were asleep,
This band of Argylls, through snow soft and deep
Like murdering foxes amongst helpless sheep
They murdered the house o' Macdonald.
Some died in their beds at the hands o the foe,
Some fled in the night and were lost in the snow
Some lived to accuse him who struck the first blow
But gone was the house of Macdonald.

The sunshine returned for our visit to Fort William, but snowflakes swirled around us as we ascended on the Ben Nevis cable cars and enjoyed a hot choclate with the snow boarders.

Our days also included visits to Loch Long 'Rest and Be Thankful' and the black and white town of Invarary.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Fossiling in Lyme Regis

With Thursday's winds howling outside I think it's just as well that we went to Lyme Regis last week (10th - 13th January) and not in the recorded 70+ mile an hour gales! Even so, last week there were huge rollers crashing up onto the beach as we embarked on the new experience of fossil hunting.

Lyme Regis is at the heart of the Jurassic coast, and to compliment the OU fossils course, we booked a three night trip staying in the Royal Lion Hotel, (excellent value, lovely room, and superb food) to try my hand at discovering the long past.

We spent two days on the beaches including a great afternoon in the company of Ian a local geologist and fossil hunter, who showed us where to look and how to find the fossils and release them from the rocks. Our collection is mostly of ammonites from approximately 190 million years ago, but some we have are much younger being only 100 million years old!
The picture shows some of our discoveries.

We found large ammonites in the rocks.

Lyme Regis is a quaint seaside town, a ready-made setting for period dramas and is well known for being the backdrop of the film The French Lieutenants Woman, and is the setting for a new adaptation of Jane Austen's Persuasion.

On our journey down, we made a quick visit to Stonhenge and a nostalgic return visit to our honeymoon hideout of Shaftesbury! Was it really that long ago?!!!! A really great few days delving in the past!!!!

Sunday, December 24, 2006

WOW!! Yes! Yes!! Yes!!!

Results received 15th December and I'm pinching myself to believe I have qualified for a BA (open) degree!! When I did my first OU course I never envisaged arriving at this day!! I can't wipe the smile off my face, I keep finding myself grinning in public!

Paris in Winter

It's a few weeks now since we enjoyed a four night trip to Paris, (23rd - 27th November), thanks to the wonders of cheap flights and Coventry airport. With the City getting into the pre-Christmas season, Paris was as ever an exciting, lively, and great place to be in. On this occasion we visited the refurbished Orangerie with its stunning Monet water lilies and an absolute jewel of an art collection; the Picasso Museum, which brought to life so many of the works of art studied earlier in the year, it was very satisfying, and the Rauschenberg and Klein exhibitions at the Pompidou Centre, again bringing to life 'Art of the 20th Century'. The shop windows in the Madeleine were stunning with their displays of cakes, chocolates and glacé fruits. The church was enormous!!!

The Eiffel Tower shimmered on the hour with hundreds of white twinkly lights, complimenting the Christmas lights of Galeries Lafayette and Printemps.

We enjoyed views of the City by day whilst re-visiting Montmartre, and of the City by night, visiting for the first time the Montparnasse tower.

Mmmmmm perhaps just one more créme brulée :-)

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

My place in the Universe!

Have been sent this link, and just had to save it for posterity! So now we all know where we stand!

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Sunday, 3rd September, 2006

Our cases packed and stowed in the left luggage room, we once again enjoyed omelets and hash browns at 'Andrews'. It's a bright sunny day with blue skies, perfect for a view from the top of the Empire State Building. The views were astonishing, we took far too many pics, and we reminisced of experiences of other high places, the Eiffel Tower, Paris and the campanile at the Duomo in Florence, and rated this third!!!!!! But that said the views were spectacular. Before being whisked to the 86th floor for the observatory, we were given a simulated sky train ride over and around New York as though we were flying in a helicopter.

Back on ground level we caught the Big Taxi open-topped tour bus and relaxed in the sunshine as we were taken through the streets and avenues to soak up the Big Apple. The three hour tour took us around mid, uptown and downtown New York, and past many well known landmarks, including a stop to view: the Rockerfeller Center, Central Park, flat iron building, Carnegie Hall, Chrysler Building, Greenwich Village, Broadway, Little Italy, Times Square, Soho, Chinatown, Ground Zero, NY public libraries, the Statue of Liberty.......and more!!!!!! It seemed as if we were sighseeing up to the last minute. We were off the tourbus at 4.30 p.m. and on the 5.01p.m. New Jersey Transit from Penn Station to the airport, in that half-hour we even managed to squeeze in a supermarket trip to get some tea for Ben! So here we are in Gallaghers looking out over the airport waiting for our meal and our plane!!!

I'm at home now and typing up this diary, and drinking a cuppa! Our flight home was uneventful, after lots of security checks again, fingerprints and photos too! We arrived into Birmingham, at 8.30 a.m. local time and we were back home by 10.00 a.m. WOW!!!! What a trip!!! Fantastic!!!!! :-)))
Saturday, 2nd September, 2006.

After an omelet breakfast at 'Andrew's', we caught a yellow taxi, (it was raining or we would have walked!) which took us to the Metropolitan. This impressive building houses a museum and art collection. We had a wonderful time here, so much art, even David's Death of Socrates, which brought back memories of A103. There was also another collection of modern art.

When we emerged from the Museum a few hours later, it was still spitting with rain, but we decided to walk through Central Park and stopped at The Boathouse
. This café restaurant had beautiful views over the lake, and there was a pianist playing as we devoured our burger and fries! It was still raining, so we donned our plastic rain capes we had been given at the Houston conference, and made our way through Central Park to see the John Lennon memorial 'Imagine'. People had placed flowers there.

We caught the subway at 72nd Street back to 34th Street Penn Station (a wonderful art deco station) to our hotel on 7th Avenue. After a rest, we set out again in the rain the the Empire State Building with a view to going to the top, but it was shrouded in mist and cloud so we never got passed the impressive art deco foyer. Purchasing hot chocolates we made our way to bed - oh! and managed to get onto FC for a short while :-))

Friday, 1st September, 2006.

I'm sitting drinking a coffee in MoMA. For the last two hours we have been immersed in the world of Dada at a special exhibition, which includes many of the original works from artists such as Hans Arp, Max Ernst, Marcel Duchamp. Man Ray, Hannah Hoch...the list goes on. Four and a half hours later (after entering) we left MoMA!!

At the half price ticket office off Times Square we purchased two tickets for tonights performance of Hairspray. Then we wandered down Broadway and now find ourselves in Bubba Gumps seafood and shrimp restaurant, themed on the film Forest Gump. We've ordered the mahi mahi and wait in anticipation! While waiting we were cross-examined on our knowledge of Forest Gump. We wondered if they wouldn't serve us if we didn't get the questions right!!! The mahi mahi was delicious, and after a quick change at the hotel we were back on Broadway. Hairspray is a lively full-on rockin' musical set in the 60's, full of colour, excitment and frivolity, yet reflective of the time of change. We really enjoyed the pure joy of the occasion, and the all American demonstrative response of the audience. On the way back to our hotel we stopped off for a hot chocolate :-)
Thursday, 31st August, 2006

Our last visit this morning to Murphy's and our last session at the conference before having to say goodbye to our new found friends before setting off for New York! We had met people from all over America, they came from places with great sounding names, like Kalamazoo, Paducah, Tallhassee, Chattanooga, Hazard, Colorado Springs, Needville, Brownsburg, Jacksonville, Seattle, Baton Rouge, Kansas City, Toronto, Canada, Alaska, to name a few, and of course us from the UK!

The day was spent travelling between Houston and New York, but 11.00 p.m. found us in the bright lights and crowds of Times Square!!! :-)
Wednesday, 30th August, 2006.

Another early start and breakfast at Murphy's :-) After the first conference session and a half hour spent on the computers, blogging and emailing, I set off on my own to explore the Butterfly Center, a large purpose built glass domed jungle like environment, with large exotic plants, and thousands of colourful and varied butterflies. It was peaceful, relaxing and calming just to take time and to sit and watch! In the hatcheries butterflies were in various stages of hatching out, and I stood and watched as a butterfly emerged from its chrysalis.

Back at the conference, and before lunch there was an awards ceremony. Among the presenters were two of the wives of crew members lost on the Challenger mission of 1986. One of the awards collected by David, on behalf of the National Space Centre, was for the number of members of the public given the opportunity to experience a Challenger Mission.

After lunch and a personal meeting with the CEO, we met up with two other delegates from Tallahassee and from Baton Rouge, and we went to downtown Houston to visit the Hard Rock Café, and Ben and Jerry's for an icecream.

Back at the hotel we boarded the coach to take us to the George Observatory. It was quite a long ride out into the countryside through the cotton fields. The Observatory is in the Brazos Bend State Park, and access is through a woodland path. Here we were confronted with huge spider webs complete with resident Golden Orb spiders!!! There were literally scores of them (shudder). They were out in force because it was their breeding season, apparently the female eats the male after mating. :-/ On our way along the path, dodging the webs, we also saw two little alligators looking at us from the lake! However, it was worth it! After another Texmex meal, and darkness had fallen, we viewed from giant telescopes distant galaxies and star clusters with names I'd never heard of. A close view of the surface of the moon (fab) and a spectacular close up of Jupiter and three of its moons. I can't describe how enthralling this was, I had never had the experience of looking through these telescopes before, and it was wonderful!
Alongside the Observatory there was a Challenger Learning Center and we had the opportunity to view their set-up.

In the dark we made a single file as the leader with a large flash light guided us back through the spider webs!!!!!

Another BRILLIANT day :-)

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Tuesday, 29th August 2006

Our day started wandering through to Murphy's Deli for breakfast! We were unsure how the day was going to work out, but on arrival at the Houston Museum of Natural Science we discovered that I had been included as a delegrate for the conference, my badge giving me "honorary Houston citizenship". It was a day crammed with activity as we were assigned to separate groups and set off on our programmes, but not before we had been thrilled by the presentation from Astronanut Scott Parazynski, an astronaut with four shuttle mssions to his name.

In our group we played with and were given new software, we viewed the developing ideas for use in 'inflateable domes', visited the Challenger Learning Centre in Houston (housed in the Museum) and exchanged ideas.

It was a very interesting day rounded off with burritos in a Mexican restaurant and a visit to 'Bodyworlds' at the Museum, which were displayed authentic body parts and skeletons!!!!!!

Monday 28th August 2006
It's now 5.00 p.m. and we are back at our hotel having spent a day in the world of Space adventure and exploration. The coach left the hotel for the Johnson Space Center, our first port of call being the Sonny Carter building which houses the largest indoor pool in the world. In 40 feet of water astronauts were training for EVA's (space walks) on full size underwater mock ups of the space shuttle and the International Space Station. Working under water is the closest on earth they can get to the experience of walking in space. Transfer by coach took us to further astronaut facilities and an enormous building containing full size models of the shuttle, soyuz space craft and various components of the International Space Station, and a test model for the new American spacecraft designed to replace the shuttle in 2010/12. This priviledged access to this normally restricted area was followed by short lectures on moon rocks, Mars rocks and the Stardust mission which collected debris from the tail of a comet.

After lunch at the astronaut and space workers restaurant we visited the historic Apollo missions operations control room from where both Apollo 11 and Apollo 13 were directed. Having seen what it was like for the Apollo missions with their comparitively limited computer facilities, we went on to see the state of the art mission controls.

Houston we have arrived!!!

Sunday 27th August.
An early start at 4.00 a.m. to catch the 9.00 a.m. flight from Birmingham to Newark New York. Amidst much security and inspections we arrived safely with views of the New York skyline on touchdown after seven and a quarter hours of flying. Our first queue was for immigration where we were fingerprinted and photographed on entry into the USA. Our next wait was for the luggage which once we had collected led us to a queue for customs, having got through this hurdle we joined the next queue to have our bags rechecked for our onward flight to Houston. We then made our way after an hour and threequarters back to the same gate and the same plane from which we had disembarked!!! Not even getting a chance for a New York coffee. Almost three hours later we arrived at Houston at 4.15 p.m. local time and 10.15 p.m. at home. Our cases claimed we caught the shuttle bus to the Hotel Marriot in the medical centre of Houston, an area that seems to be filled with large prestigious looking private hospitals. After a rest, a shower and a call home we went down to the Hotel's Fannins Restaurant, and it wasn't long before we found ourselves with a group of other Challenger Flight Directors. We were made very welcome :-) We were in bed by 9.15 p.m. but then it was 3.15 a.m. at home, our day had not been 24 hours but 30 hours.