Alnwick Castle a.k.a. Hogwarts

As a huge Harry Potter fan, Alnwick Castle was one of the first items on Judi’s list of places to visit. Located on the south bank of the River Aln, it is the 2nd largest inhabited castle in U.K. after Windsor Castle. However, it is more than the stately home of the 12th Duke of Northumberland – Ralph Percy, as aficionados of the “Big Screen” and TV Documentaries will recognise it from numerous productions. The castle was used as Hogwarts in the first two Harry Potter films, Downtown Abbey 2014 Christmas Special and the final episode in 2015, and many other productions dating back to 1964. Click here to view the list.

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Touring Northumberland Coast AONB

What is an AONB? – it is an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, that is protected. In Canada and the USA, I believe the equivalent is our National, Provincial & State parks. Having spent a full day driving the local roads, this area is an exceptional candidate for this designation. It also means that it is popular with tourists.

A couple of nights before leaving Strathkinness, I phoned a couple of the B&B’s I had shortlisted, OMG – none of them had any vacancies and it was the middle of May.

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Farne Islands – National Trust Bird Sanctuary

The Farne Islands Bird Sanctuary is a National Trust attraction, a few miles off the NE coast from the fishing port of Seahouses. It comprises Inner Farne, Outer Farne, Brownsman, Staple Island and a number of rocks that are awash only at low tide. Access is only provide by one of the local boat operators from Seahouses.

It is one of UK’s premier bird sanctuaries, with over 23 species of birds, some which have thousands of nesting pairs. There are an estimated 37,000 pairs of Puffins on the islands. In addition to the birds, they have a large colony of sea lions, with over 1,000 pups born every Fall.

In addition, the islands have a number of structures dating back to the 7th Century.

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Greenwich Royal Museums # 2

The first post on Greenwich covered the National Maritime Museum, Royal Observatory and Queen’s House, so this one will cover the Cutty Sark, Greenwich Market, taking a stroll under the Thames and a couple of the pubs we visited.

I spent 2 days in Greenwich and still felt rushed, as I could easily have spent more time at some of the attractions, especially the Observatory.

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Royal Museums in Greenwich # 1

When visiting London and you want some respite from the hustle and bustle of the city, I highly recommend a trip out to the Royal Borough of Greenwich, commonly referred to as simply Greenwich. The 4 Royal Museums of Greenwich are definitely worth a visit – National Maritime Museum, Queen’s House, Royal Observatory and Cutty Sark. Visiting all 4 in a day is possible, but I preferred a more relaxed schedule and took 2 days.

As a retired mariner, I was in heaven, but Judi also thoroughly enjoyed her single day, especially the Observatory & Prime Meridian.

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Edinburgh to Cape Town

With British Airways you can check-in online 24 hrs before the flight, so we drove up from Manchester a little faster, so we were back at Strathkinness to complete the check-in when it opened.

However, we experienced a similar error as the previous flights that not only prevented us checking-in, it wouldn’t even let us select seats. Calling BA, I spent 45 minutes in the call queue and after explaining my issue, the young lady put me on hold while she checked her system. While on hold, boom the phone went dead and no way was I waiting another 45 minutes.

The Cape Town flight didn’t have many unassigned seats left, and as we do prefer to sit together, our only option was to check-in early at Edinburgh. Therefore, we shoe horned the luggage into the rental car and hit the road about 10:00, which had us dropping the car off shortly after 11:00. On checking in the young lady advised we had 2 seats together on both flights, so we headed to the comfortable BA lounge, for the 3+ hour wait for the flight. Our flight departed at 15:40 for the scheduled short hop down to London, but as usual LHR was backed up, so we completed a few laps of the track, NW of London, before getting clearance to land. On departing the plane in Heathrow T5, we reached the concourse and almost immediately arrived at the transfer gate, which required a ticket scan and bang we were through to the departures area. No walking miles of corridors and no security screening at Heathrow resulted in us settling into our seats in the BA lounge about 10 minutes after leaving the plane.

After another couple of hours we headed out to the departure gate and boarded the flight for the 20:15 departure. Arriving at our seats we noted an issue resulting from us not asking the correct questions at check-in. Yes, we had 2 seats together, actually 2 pods together, problem is they both face towards the rear and Judi doesn’t travel well facing backwards. She survived the take-off, barely; my hand fortunately is still functioning and the bruising from crushing should be better in a few months. For those that don’t know Judi, she doesn’t mind flying when 7 miles up, but really doesn’t like the take-off and dislikes landings even more. Therefore, she tends to use my hand as kind of a security blanket, which is great until you throw in some turbulence, then it’s bye, bye hand. For the landing, the exceptional crew found her a forward facing seat, which means I am actually able to type with both hands. Other than the length, almost 12 hours through the night, it was an excellent flight. Great crew, great meals ( smoked salmon & filet steak) and even tried a few glasses of South African wines.

The final approach and landing was smooth, especially considering the airport and approaches were covered in fog. Shortly after finding the gate, the pilot came over the P/A, saying for those interested in the operation of the plane – due to the fog, they were required to conduct a full auto-pilot landing. Judi is very happy he provided this information after we landed and not before.

Summary

Flight Completed – 4

Flight Distance – 11,546 miles

Flights Remaining – 18

Summary Of Our 16 Days In UK

I was brought up in UK and Judi has also lived there briefly as a child, so our visit is more to see and spend some time with my dad, rather than playing tourist, but we do try to make a point of visiting a new location each visit.

In Scotland the weather is always an excellent topic of conversation and generally isn’t about how grand it’s been. For the first few days it was bitterly cold (4 or 5 C), at time torrential rain, while the remainder of the time it just rained and the wind never stopped. When attending the Rangers match we almost froze sitting in the stands. For the last week we experienced a remarkable turn around – clear skies and reasonably hot.

During our time in UK, we did the following:

  • Attended a football match
  • Drove to the West Coast and visited where I was born and a few of the houses we lived in
  • Met for dinner with friends we met on the last cruise on Emerald Princess
  • Took my dad down to the award winning chippie in Anstruther for lunch
  • Walking tour of St Andrews
  • Many long walks through the village in Strathkinness
  • Visited Falkirk wheel and the Kelpies (new)
  • Drove to/from Manchester
  • Met with old shipmate in Sheffield
  • Trip across Pennines (new)

Summary

  • Days completed -16,
  • Days remaining – 246
  • Flights completed – 2
  • Flights remaining – 20
  • Flights Distance – 5,046 miles
  • Distance driven – 1,000 miles

Real Ale and Lunch Excursion To Sheffield

Pouring real aleDuring the UK portion of our travels we drove down to Glossop, just outside Manchester for about 4 days. In addition to spending a few days with our son’s mother-in-law to be, finalising the details of the Thailand wedding, we also took the train over to Sheffield for the day to meet one of my old ship mates. Two retired “Jolly Jacks” on a pub crawl in Sheffield, with wives, now that might be worth a read.

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Anstruther Fish Bar

shopLocated about 10 miles South of St Andrews, Anstruther is one of the small fishing village/towns on the Fife Coast. The Anstruther Fish Bar was opened by a local family in 2003, that have worked in the local industry for many years. Using only locally caught and the freshest fish, the Fish Bar quickly developed an impressive reputation, which was confirmed when they won UK’s best chippie.

For Judi and I, a visit to the Anstruther Fish Bar is a regular sojourn every time we return to Scotland to visit my dad. A couple of days ago we took my dad and headed down to Anstruther for fish & chips. While I believe it now has new owners, the same quality is maintained. Exceptional lunch.

Anstruther Fish Bar from across the harbour at low tide

Anstruther Fish Bar from across the harbour at low tide

St Andrews Walking Tour

The small town of St Andrews is located on the North East Fife coastline and is the last place I lived in Scotland, before moving to Canada in 1980. Most people have probably heard St Andrews referred to as “The Home of Golf”, but in reality, St Andrews is so much more, with abundant history, renowned university, commerce and a thriving tourist industry.

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