Category Archives: Travel

From Eindhoven to Antwerp – & Inbetween (2/2)

What’s the first thing you do when you arrive in a new city? Check out the door furniture, sneak peeks through windows, hunt down pub carpets, look for a chip shop? Me too!

In Antwerp it’s not just any ol’ chips you’ll want to find, it’s designer fries by Sergio Herman at Frites Atelier. We settled in for the Bacon and Bearnaise seasonal special. The chips, cooked skin-on, were fluffy on the inside and crispy on the outside. That’s some good potato action there, (and I am speaking as an expert).


The rain started to fall heavily. Our guide was adamant that we’d survive, but I wasn’t so sure. I double wrapped my scarf round my head and hoped for the best.

We skipped from doorway to overhang, turning our faces from the driving rain to peer into the warm lit shops full of beautiful design, apparel and chocolates. Everywhere there were hands – little hand door knockers, little hand biscuits, little chocolate hands, little symbols of Antwerp.


Rushing through the streets, dodging puddles, we made our way to the Museum Plantin Moretus, a UNESCO world heritage site, housed in the 16th century mansion home and printing establishment of Christophe Plantin.

Dark oak panels and ceilings, walls hung with Rubens paintings on golden satin flocked wallpaper, dimly lit by large three-tiered brass chandeliers. The floors creaked, wood ground against wood under heavy foot, as we passed through the many rooms, saw the world’s oldest printing presses and wondered at the anatomical illustrations of Andrea Vesalius.


Back, out into the light, the rain gave break as we made our way to another UNESCO world heritage site, the seven aisled gothic beauty, the Cathedral of Our Lady.

Outside the cathedral is a sculpture of a boy and his dog, made of white marble, tucked under a paving stone blanket. The work, by Batist Vermeulen, pays homage to the characters Nello and Patrasche from the 19th century English novel, ‘A Dog of Flanders’. This is a tale of great sadness, so, I am going to share it with you.

Nello, an orphan, rescues a dog that was beaten close to death. They become inseparable friends, all they have is each other. After a series of desperately upsetting events Nello, a very talented artist, decides he wants to see Rubens’ paintings in Antwerp cathedral, but he can’t afford the exhibition entry fee. On Christmas Eve they find the church door open, by chance they can go in and see the paintings after all. The next morning Nello and Patrasche are found, cuddled together and frozen to death, in front of ‘The Descent from the Cross’. Apparently, the universal message here is that ‘friendship conquers all, even beyond death’. Let’s see what we can do with the living, shall we?


We took the multiple escalators to the rooftop of MAS, a warehouse-like museum, like a Tetris stack of red-brown sandstone with glass infills, set between two docks. We looked over the city, across the lights, watched trains and cars pass by, then took the multiple escalators back down, crossing the road to Restaurant Lux for a fabulous dinner (and a lovely tiled floor).


It was dark when I arrived in my room at the Hotel Rubens. Cool marble tables, nice lighting, huge bed that lured me with its soft white cotton and many pillows. I was asleep in no time at all.

My delight in the morning when I pulled back the curtains, opened the window wide and revelled in the beauty of it all – the crisp morning air, the peace and quiet, the years of buildings all layered together like the most magical cake.

We were up early, plodding across the city to The Rubens House. It’s actually a palace and his front room had gold leather covered walls. Rubens also owned a couple of castles.

Other things I learnt at The Rubens House: Pets in paintings was a thing in the 16th and 17th century. Some of Rubens work had the value of two houses, while he was alive. His studio was pretty much a factory, 3000 paintings were made there by ‘him’. Aside from being an artist, Rubens was a business man, a diplomat, and some say, genius. However enthralling a tour guide is, I still can’t help but wander off.


Fully Rubens’d up, we headed to our last stop in Antwerp, RAS, a delightful and calm restaurant, on one side overlooking the river Scheldt, and the other looking back at the varied architecture of the city.

The amber coloured beer, De Koninck, is brewed in the city of Antwerp, the goblet shaped glass it is traditionally served in is called a ‘Bolleke’.

After a delicious lunch and one final toast to a great trip, we were back on the road, heading down to Dunkirk for our ferry crossing home.

As we left the city we got a glimpse of the Port House from a distance, designed by Zaha Hadid, a century-old ex fire station sits beneath a new extension of epic proportions. An incredible diamond-like spaceship that needs to be seen to be believed.

My only question now is, when are we going back?


Frites Atelier Korte Gasthuisstraat 32, 2000 Antwerp

Museum Plantin Moretus Vrijdagmarkt 22, 2000 Antwerpen

Cathedral of Our Lady Handschoenmarkt 3, 2000 Antwerpen

Restaurant Lux Adriaan Brouwerstraat 13, 2000 Antwerpen

Hotel Rubens Oude Beurs 29 , 2000 , Antwerp

The Rubens House Wapper 9-11, 2000 Antwerp

RAS Ernest Van Dijckkaai 37, 2000 Antwerpen

DFDS operates services from Dover to Dunkirk and Dover to Calais. All Dover-France ships feature a Premium Lounge, which can be booked for an additional £12 per person each way.

With the greatest thanks to the wonderful people of Visit Holland and Visit Flanders for inviting me to join them on such an excellent adventure. 

From Eindhoven to Antwerp – & Inbetween (1/2)

I quite like a ferry crossing, although I don’t think I’ve been on one since the Hull to Zeebrugge over-nighter of 2014 where everyone was drunk before we even left the port and I ended up on a winning streak in the casino.

This trip was different though, this was DFDS Dover to Dunkirk, with peaceful Premium Lounge passes and excellent eggs benedict. It seemed to be over in a flash, and then we were on the road. It feels like everyone I know gets on the ferry and then heads south through France, but we were going against the norm, turning left, and heading to the ‘city of light’, Eindhoven.


I was excited to get a tour of the city, to look at the beautiful tiled floor in the station, to see the public art, to wander through the Downtown Gourmet Market (I will come back for you delicious foods of the world!)  and, to see the spots where the famous Philips factories had been.

Eindhoven was the home of Philips from 1891. They were there so long that when they left, 100 years later, the city had to totally regenerate. Many of the iconic factory buildings were repurposed, filled with creative people, new technology and innovation.

Eindhoven is hip. They’ve got a logo called ‘the vibe’, a building called ‘The Blob’, and their motto is ‘if you choose, you get chosen’.

They’ve also got a building called ‘The Brown Lord’.

We went to Vane Skybar, drank speciality cocktails called ‘The Homer’ (as in, homing pigeon. I love pigeons), overlooking the city lights.


Finally we arrived at Kazerne for dinner. Beautiful
Alex De Witte lights hung above the bar like balloons in perpetual motion. Plants and dark walls, fantastic Dutch Invertuals exhibition on display, and someone had parked a phat AMG C63 outside. I was in my element, then they cranked it up a notch with the most delicious dinner.

The tour of the city was so good I even got my guide book signed.

Later that night in the Lumen Bar I learnt the saying ‘as dark as a dick’. Apparently, it’s a Dutch thing.

The old Philips Light Tower, Eindhoven.

We stayed at the Inntel hotel Art Eindhoven. In the morning I pulled open the curtains and looked up at the Light Tower. This fabulous industrial monument, now part of the hotel, was built between 1909 – 1921. Inside it hundreds of thousands of filament bulbs were tested – the tower was lit day and night. Sounds quite magical to me. I like lightbulbs.

In the hotel lobby there was an exhibition, not what I was expecting from such a modern space – cottages, cart horses, boobies and a portrait of Princess Diana.

After breakfast we headed straight to Nuenen, the countryside village where Vincent Van Gogh lived for two years and produced a quarter of all his works, including The Potato Eaters. I like potatoes.

We visited the Vincentre and watched a short film about Van Gogh. Read from his diary, the words ‘Winter is snow with black trimmings,stuck with me, a vision through his eyes.

We walked around Neunen, treading in his footsteps. I picked up an oak leaf from the pavement outside Nune Ville Parsonage. For a year Van Gogh lived and worked in the washhouse, here at his parents’ house. He must have seen that same tree, for a full year of seasons.

We took turns to stand on a step, to peer through a gap in a hedge, to look at the church from the same spot that Van Gogh painted it. I caught a glimpse of more modern buildings. ‘Don’t cross the road,’ said Nigel, our tour guide, as I crossed the road.


I was interested to see the things that weren’t related to Van Gogh. For such a small town, with such prominent association, I wanted to see the things that weren’t luring the tourists. Such modernist suburban delight. The lamp posts were beautiful, simple designs and good paint colours, in front of modern, pale toned houses with dorma roofs. Someone had a Vauxhall Cavalier.

We ate lunch at the Opwetten Watermill, situated on the Kleine Dommel river. Van Gogh painted a lot here, I ate croquettes. We are both artists in our own right.

Continuing on to Den Bosch, at the Het Noordbrabants Museum we were each welcomed with an oversized Bossche Bol. A sweet treat worth travelling for. So good I’m sure they even chose the decor to complement its beauty.

We saw Van Gogh paintings – portraits of workers, in dark greens, blues, greys – he found beauty in everyday people.

We saw the exhibition devoted to the film ‘Loving Vincent’, a unique glimpse behind the scenes of the making of the painted animation, the first film of its kind in the world (65000 paintings, 12 canvases per second, 94 minutes long – all painted by hand!).

And then we saw, with mouths open and eyes bulging in awe, Tim Walker’s ‘The Garden of Earthly Delights’. The exhibition space was vast, but the images perfectly scaled, dark in tone and larger than life. Shona Heath’s magical props displayed with plenty of space to enjoy, but close enough to be able to inspect the details. Everything was perfect.


That evening we dined in Den Bosch’s most famous street, Korte Putstraat – restaurant hopping from starter, to main course, to dessert (served in a lightbulb!). LUX, Zoetelief, then Breton – all different, all delicious, all complimentary to each other.

I slept so well that night. Dreams filled with magical puddings and ethereal figures. The thoughts of the candlelit breakfast to come. The desire to wake up early and photograph the carpets passed me by as I fell deep into slumber. Cool air, heavy duvet.

Shout out to Huize Bergen for the comfiest bed, and for controllable room temperatures. Boo ya!

DFDS operates services from Dover to Dunkirk and Dover to Calais. All Dover-France ships feature a Premium Lounge, which can be booked for an additional £12 per person each way.

Vane Skybar Vestdijk 5, 5611 CA Eindhoven

Kazerne Paradijslaan 2-8, 5611 KN Eindhoven

Inntel hotel Art Eindhoven Mathildelaan 1 (GPS), 5611 BJ Eindhoven

Vincentre Berg 29, 5671 CA Nuenen

Opwetten Watermill Opwettenseweg 203, 5674 AC Nuenen

Het Noordbrabants Museum Verwersstraat 41, ‘s-Hertogenbosch

Korte Putstraat Korte Putstraat, 5211 KP, ‘s-Hertogenbosch

Huize Bergen Glorieuxlaan 1, 5261 SG Vught

With the greatest thanks to the wonderful people of Visit Holland and Visit Flanders for inviting me to join them on such an excellent adventure. 

Rwanda: Looking for Lions – Akagera National Park (2/2)


The sun was hotting up as we started our drive to the north of Akagera National Park to meet the ranger who would take us lion tracking. In hindsight I should have put pedal to the metal (or flipflop to the floor) and got up there sooner, but the wowing and wooing over the amazing animals we saw meant we had to keep stopping. We had to.


Impala, monkeys, baboons, buffalo, topi, klipspringer, waterbuck, warthogs (and baby warthogs!), giraffes, zebra, guinea fowl, sea eagles, hawk eagles, lilac breasted rollers, all kinds of birds… hippos and a crocodile! I saw some elephant poo too, does that count?


We drove up to Hippo Beach and stopped for a sandwich as a storm came in. Heavy rain and thunder. I offered Maddy the hard boiled egg from my lunch bag. Whack, whack, whack, she cracked it open on the arm rest as we sat and watched the weather moving around us.


The rain slowed and we drove on, opening the windows and breathing the scent of the warm, damp, nutty earth.

Several hours after setting off, along the bumpy tracks, slowly sweeping round the deep puddles and wonky crevices, we arrived at the ranger’s post. Maddy kept telling me how well I was driving, keeping me focused and enthused. I think driving an Elise in the Fens has given me strong pot hole awareness skills. (Also a strong sphincter. Just saying.)


The windows of the ranger’s lodge were lined with the skulls of animals. Nathan, the ranger, came out with his telemetry gear in hand, a rifle hanging from his waist. ‘Its okay’, he explained, ‘I would only use it to scare if I had to.’


We bundled into the 4×4, me still driving, suddenly more aware of every move – now that there was a man with a gun sat behind me.

We drove and stopped, drove and stopped. Each time Nathan got out and held his lion finding wand in the air. We got closer and closer, tracking the lions to an unreachable hillside, before eventually turning back.

Disappointed. I really thought we’d see the lions. I wondered how we’d be able to tell the story now. Then we spotted a bunch of baboons. One of them was limping. I was fully distracted. While the others ran off, he stopped, sat down, looked me straight in the eye and held his leg up to show me it was injured. Ignore his winky, he was cute. I wish I could have helped him, not just taken his photo.


We headed back, checked in to the beautiful Ruzizi Tented Lodge, a solar powered eco-lodge on the edge of lake Ihema with only nine tents.

Along the boardwalk through the trees was our tent, crickets and birds chirping outside. Tiny lizards scurrying across the netted windows.


Up at the lodge we sat round the fire, surrounded by velvet darkness and so many unusual sounds. We ate delicious barbecued beef from skewers, and an unexpected sticky toffee pudding.

Returning in the dark to the sound of hyenas barking calls across the clearing in front of our tent, we zipped ourselves in and got into our beds, air cool enough to warrant duvets, leaving the front covers up (mosquito nets down) so that we could be woken by the sun.

I slept so well, strangely soothed by the wild sounds of the dark night. I woke for a short while to hear hippos shouting, making their ‘wha ha ha’ noises, just like the Predator when he learnt to laugh.


In the morning the chap on reception said to me, ‘You slept well!’ I must have looked puzzled, wondering how he might know. ‘When you arrived here you looked like –‘ he did an impression of a miserable hunchback. ‘Now you look –‘ he stood up straight and smiled.


I sat on the veranda overlooking the lake, for a while I was in so much peace, watching a cormorant dive for fish, and hippos bob up and down. ‘Crocodile!’ shouted the Americans on the next table. Sara joined me for breakfast, fruit salad with tree tomatoes, pancakes with ginger syrup. Thank you world!


We packed up our bags. I’m far from a seasoned traveller, but I would always recommend packing plenty of medical supplies, sunglasses, a warm shawl, portable phone charger and a small mini bar in case you need to appease your travel buddy. I think it’s wise.


I drove back to Kigali feeling much more confident on the roads. Gladly so, as we reached the city in rush hour and it was hectic. Arriving early at the airport, after the engine bay was searched and we put all our things on the pavement for a dog to sniff, we waited for the car to be picked up and watched yet another storm, thunder and lightning. And I saw a domestic cat.

We flew home through the night. Sara slumbered, snored and shuffled beside me, I jotted notes and watched Suicide Squad, wide eyed and wondering about the next adventure.

Huge thanks to Sarah Hall and Jess Gruner from Akagera National Park for all their hospitality and knowledge, and to Away, David Bath, Rebecca B, Carrie Betts, Kevin Betts, Phill Capstick, Camila Cavalcante, Kate Chase and Chase Distillery, Collingwood Norris,  Petra Dumbrell from Adjustus V, Juliet Ferguson, Ian Foulsham, Rachel Gill, Dil Gladwell, Paul Golding, Emily Kate Holmes, Averil Deirdre Hume, Juice, Anita Kerai from Anita’s Kitchen, Penelope Marshall, Stephen Mason, Aoife Maxwell, Annie McCredie, Alan McCredie, Patrick Minee, Susie Moore, Phil Peek, M Perry,  Mads Petersen, Liz Roberts, Martin Roberts, Shade Station, Wendy Stevenson, Miriam Winsor, Laura Ward, & those cheeky anonymous donors, for their amazing support and generosity.

Rwanda: Looking for Lions – Kigali to Akagera (1/2)

Our flight was delayed by Mr Fisher. Or Fischer. Fysher, maybe. I thought about it a lot. Who was this man who had checked his luggage but never made it to the flight? ‘Maybe he had to go home for an emergency?’, I said. ‘Dead in the toilet’, said Sara.

We rushed at Brussels airport to get our connecting flight to Kigali, via a stop in Entebbe. (Hashtag travel blogger. Done Uganda. OMG hashtag two countries in one hour. Avocado emoji. Hashtag vom. Or something similar.)

Sara worked at hacking the inflight entertainment system whilst the man in front of her jiggled back and forth, shuffling his bum bag from side to side and plucking long white hairs from his nose.

‘It’s Monday?’ I asked, too many times. I ate an inflight meal of bread roll and antihistamines and snuggled into my blanket-like shawl stroking it gently and calling it my new best friend.

Some months earlier I’d met Sara through Instagram. She lived not so far from me and always shared pictures of her lovely old house, antiques and things. One day we met for a cup of tea, and the next, well…

Sara told me she’d spent years working on a book about lions for Bloomsbury. I was enthralled. I couldn’t believe that I’d not known how close lions had come to extinction in the wild. In Rwanda, they’d been completely wiped out in the 1990s because of the horrific Genocide.

Sara told me there was a chance for me to do something, to travel with her and document a project in Akagera, where lions had been successfully reintroduced. I was in, totally in, but there was a slight hitch – no funding. I’d have to take time out of work, work for free, and pay for the privilege. Sara said she couldn’t afford this either, she’d put everything into the book, so she set up a Crowdfunder for When The Last Lions Roars, and asked people to support us, writer and photographer, to go to Rwanda and get the story direct from the lions mouth (Spoiler, we didn’t meet any lions).


I was overwhelmed by the support from people I knew, people who I didn’t expect to be interested in what I was up to, let alone be so generous. Three quarters of the funding came from those dear kind people, and a bit more from my things that Sara sold.

So, there I was, flying to Africa with a woman who I only really knew through tiny squares on the internet, Instagram snapshots of her life through her eyes.

After a long queue (a short queue, a long time) for our Visas we stepped out into the night. The air was warm and smelt of wood fires. Armed police stood on street corners, dressed as men, looking like boys. Our driver took us to the hotel, up and down hills, the city scattered with lights. ‘Left hand drive!’ I exclaimed, at last noticing. Sara shrugged, ‘You’ll be fine’.


We checked in to the Marriott Hotel, admired the carpet, and headed up to our room. The lift doors opened, two men stood there, half dressed in robes. Three floors up and we’d already learnt that they were from Istanbul, they knew the city, and they would be in the bar for drinks later should we wish to join them.

I had other plans. Chugging a pot noodle in my hotel room was top of my list.

Hold the line. I noted that our toilet was branded Toto. And that we were in Africa. (If you get that you’re a music fan of the 80s).

It took me a while to get to sleep, overtired and slightly startled by hearing Sara demand ‘Sleep!’ as she dozed off (apparently it was a ‘silent’ meditation).

We woke to a view over the city and a large buffet breakfast.


Heading to the airport to pick up our pre-booked hire car we discovered that it wasn’t at the airport at all. There was a man there, holding a sign that read ‘Mr Harvey Karen’ and looking very bewildered. When we finally arrived at Europcar the car that was ready for Mr Harvey Karen wasn’t available to Miss Karen Harvey and we were asked to fork out another $100 for a new Toyota Fortuna, which turned into a beat-up Land Cruiser after the payment had gone through.

I’ve never driven a manual left-hand drive 4×4 through an African capital city before. (Make that – I’ve never driven a left hand drive anything, or a 4×4, or been to Africa.) First stop petrol station, then road works.

Attempting to master the knackered clutch and spongey brakes, we set off on our 100km journey across the land of a thousand hills, east to Akagera National Park.


I focused myself on the busy roads – first swerving pot holes, cars, trucks and cyclists, then later, school children, bicycles laden with bananas, and a mongoose. Gentle rain fell on the dusty red roads as we headed further and further from civilisation.


After several hours we arrived at Akagera National Park. Relief. Tiny brightly coloured birds bathed by a dripping water tap and baboons hung out on a  football pitch. We were met by Park Manager Jes Gruner, he gave us a brief introduction to the wonderful work they’re doing there, and then took us to meet the dogs.

Raging and snarling at their kennel doors, these beasts were quite terrifying, trained to take down a poacher in a matter of moments. Rizo was let out, immediately calmed, looking up with adoration at Jes, most obviously his favourite human, and then moving over to me with his big brown eyes for a good rubbing.

As he walked away to get back to work Jes pointed at my blue t-shirt and said, ‘Don’t wear that tomorrow’. It seems the tsetse fly likes blue, and black, so much so that the park had hung striped flags around to attract the flies away from us.

We checked in to the Game Lodge. I checked my suitcase – all blue and black.


The lodge had an air of 1960s holiday chalets, not at all what I had imagined. The curtains were a heavy patchwork of animal print. We slept under a big mosquito net. Sara tucked me in, passing me my laptop, phone, books, water and more. It felt like indoor camping.

Waking to a breakfast of banana cake, watermelon and anti-malarials, we gathered our packed lunches and headed out from the lodge to pick up my new co-driver, 22-year-old community freelance guide, and custard-cream eating kind heart, Maddy Uwase.

It was time to go on a lion hunt, and we were more than ready.

With great thanks to Kigali Marriott Hotel for hosting me and my guest for a night in their wonderful new hotel.

North Coast 500 – Scottish Highlands Road Trip


The drive up to Scotland didn’t seem too long. We saw two camels at Scotch Corner and stopped off at the Falkirk wheel for a cup of tea, before arriving, early evening in Perth – a city of grand buildings with a stunning bridge running over a wide river. A place steeped in history, where you can stay in a castle if you want to, or not. Our hotel was opposite a funeral parlour and smelt like the dentists.

We explored a little, noted that the things I am interested in probably aren’t in any tourist guides – climbing frames that look like insects and the fanciest glitziest mirrored foyer at Morrison’s supermarket. We walked down the road and eyed up blocks of flats sporting a beautiful pebble dash and pink paint combo. Some of the buildings were incredible, some of the buildings were incredible and derelict. The Waverley Hotel had been taken over by pigeons, wafting in and out of their broken glassed net-curtained windows.

We ate in the hotel restaurant, a tartan carpeted conservatory extension to the front of the building. I felt like I might be by the sea, and also quite elderly. I was reminded of the time I stayed in Eastbourne – I breakfasted with a bunch of lovely ladies who didn’t want to see me sitting alone. I joined them and accidentally ate rather a lot of prunes.

I slept for a few minutes at a time, managing to hook the open end of the pillowcase around my wrist so that the weight of my hand would pull the pillow down tight over my head and protect my ears from the drone of vehicles and traffic-light racers outside.

Breakfast was black pudding, potato cake, poached egg and mushrooms. We didn’t want beans. ‘Musical fruit!’ the waiter exclaimed before taking our order to the kitchen. The Grampian Hotel has a charm of it’s own.

From Perth, we drove, through the Cairngorms – heather, ferns, rosebay willow herb, rock, trees, so many trees – to Inverness, and on towards Wick.

 As we headed further north I noted, less trees, more sheep. We stopped off at a small cemetery atop a hill overlooking the sea. We climbed steps, hauled over a stone wall, to explore, to feel the breeze.

In Wick, on the shortest street in the world (reason enough to go there for me) we checked in to Mackays Hotel. In our room, a tipple of sherry and a Werthers Original each. Winning. Also, relief, a welcoming bed. The view of the bay from the window was almost timeless.

Again, we wandered and explored. Hand painted signs in shop windows advertised ‘Superdry’ and ‘White Stuff’. Another, framed brightly in orange, read ‘YOUTHS’ in bold letters.

We ate in the hotel restaurant, No.1 Bistro.Presumptuous name!’ I thought, but then I got eating and decided they were probably right.

Orkney handdived scallops, black pudding risotto (peppery, creamy and rich, with shredded apple), Monkfish and Serrano ham ballotine, venison with golden beetroots, tiny wild mushrooms, pink tinted potatoes and a creamy parsnip sauce (deliciously earthy and foraged flavours), a pre-dessert (why did I not know about pre-desserts before? Who has been hiding this from me?) of chocolate sponge with Wick strawberries and white chocolate mousse, soufflé with gin gel and raspberry puree, petit fours, a cup of tea… rejoice, and breath!

We slept well, ate breakfast, and drove to John O’Groats to watch people queue for photos in front of the sign. We didn’t get a Starbucks, but (sadly) we could have done. I watched little birds (twites, I think) hop in an out of crab baskets, whilst Adam tried to lure a lone seagull.

Heading west we stopped at Canisbay Church. There were lots of photos of the Queen Mum in the entrance porch and some fascinating monuments. I fell in a hole.


On to Dunnet Head, the most northerly point of the mainland. Beside the lighthouse lay  minor fortifications – a Second World War radar station and observation post, and a bunker used during the Cold War. My kind of place, I love a bunker.


We continued driving, slowing to watch sheep crossing the road, and stopping to observe Dounreay Nuclear Facility. The tourist guide called the site ‘impressive’ but I’m not so sure, maybe it was in the 1950s, when it was built, but ‘frightening’ seems a more accurate word for me. The last reactor was decommissioned in the 90s but the site is still full of dangerous nuclear materials, and so is the shoreline and seabed nearby after over 20 years of leaking radioactive fuel fragments. The beach is closed off. I’m fascinated by radioactivity, but not impressed. We drove on.


So many sheep, then cows – proper highland cattle standing beside the road looking glorious. Adam videoed their long hair wisping in the wind. One of them looked like Donald Trump and was chewing on an old plant pot.

Each and every turn we made opened up a new and stunning view as we drove west, stopping in Durness to admire Britains largest sea cave entrance at Smoo Cave (and a pigeons nest) and then heading inland along some of the most incredible open and empty roads, to Overscaig House Hotel on Loch Shin.


I wasn’t sure what to expect, I was concerned I would feel uncomfortable in this remote and isolated place, with no phone signal to call for help. I needn’t have worried. It was like being welcomed into a distant relative’s home. Patterned carpets, coloured bathroom suites, cushions and quirky ornaments. I’d normally be put off by this, but the personalities just won me over, I felt so at home.

We ate in the dining room, walls covered with every tartan you could imagine, a hearty dinner of Aberdeen Angus ribeye with vegetables and chips. One of the best steaks I’ve ever had.

Silent, comfortable sleep. Weighty feather duvet dreams.

We ate breakfast (sultana and cinnamon loaf with banana and maple syrup) overlooking the loch. Magnificent. 150 metres deep at its deepest point. Can you imagine?

We could just work out the shape of a tiny cottage on the other side of the loch. With a telescope we could see much more detail, it was something like looking through a keyhole into the past. A memory of a house. A ghost of a home.

Only accessible by boat and last inhabited in 1953 by an old lady who’d spent her life there. The story goes that when she was expecting a baby she had to climb down a ladder onto a boat that took her across the loch. Her husband then strapped her to the ladder, strapped the ladder to a donkey, and took her 14 miles up the road to the hospital in Lairg.

As we left Overscaig House Hotel it was cool and still. I was interested to know what it was like to be bitten by a midge. ‘You won’t get bitten by just one!’ the owner chuckled. He was right. I first felt a sting like a pin prick on my lip, then my cheek, then my eyebrow. For something so small they were fierce. I recalled the time I let an owl bite my hand to see what it felt like and wondered why I had to have all these ‘experiences’.

To Ullapool, in the rain, for lunch at the Ceilidh Place and then on to the magnificent Corrieshalloch Gorge – a slot gorge cut by glacial melt water between 2.6million and 11,500 years ago and fed by water from the river Droma. (Apparently the name Corrieshalloch means ‘ugly hollow’.)


We sped down a steep trail, through midges and mizzle, to the gorge, spotting a fly agaric mushroom on the way. First time I’ve ever seen one. It was too far from the path for me to lick.

Turning right, then left, then right again, we reached the twenty-five metre long suspension bridge swaying away with tourists who’d ignored the ‘6 people maximum’ sign in favour of a group photo.

Further along on the other side we reached the cantilevered viewing platform which jutted out over the vast drop. It was a phenomenal view, such a height that it was hard to tell the distance. I felt slightly uncomfortable, vulnerable even – mostly because an old lady with a stick was barging me and there wasn’t much space to manoeuvre, but also because of the immense scale and the splendour of nature.

The Gairloch Hotel had plenty of empty rooms to go with it’s plethora of bad reviews but we checked in any way. Adam said the best thing about the place was the revolving doors.

The old lift had been given an ‘update’. Now fully carpeted and resembling a coffin, it shunted it’s way up and down slowly. The loose carpets ruffled in waves as we creaked our way to the room. Every step causing wood to squeak and graunch against more wood.

Our room was in the roof. I moved the bed out of the eaves, so that I could actually get into it and, from the tiny tiny window, we took it in turns to watch the storm move in, waves crashing.

There was no wifi so we watched  the sticky old CRT tele that, when it could get a signal, squashed the widescreen picture into it’s square screen (I kept thinking everyone was Celine Dion), and tried to ignore the mould, and the hairs.


If you want to feel like you’ve been institutionalised half a century ago, this is the place for you. Adam’s verdict – a horrible, potentially dangerous, misery hole.

The non-edible  breakfast was accompanied by ‘traditional tea’ – pre-made brown stuff stewed in an insulated flask jug. We left as quickly as we could.


What an absolute relief it was to come across All The Goodness, a coffee and bake house between Ardelve and Dornie, on the edge of three lochs, and overlooking Eilean Donan Castle. Elderflower shortbread and a roasted strawberry bun, chai latte and a flat white. We consumed with joyous gratitude.

It began to rain. Fuelled on cake and faith in humanity restored, we drove on, through the Trossachs and Loch Lomond National Park to the Four Seasons Hotel in Crief.


We stayed in a chalet on the hillside, overlooking the loch. By day, the drone of jet skis on the water, by night, pitch black with the gentle rustling of trees and something scurrying in the roof.

We slept well, waking to natures gift of mouse droppings in the morning. All I could think was that I wished I’d put my toothbrush away the night before.


And then it was time to begin our final journey home. We stopped off in Ayrshire, tried to get a glimpse of the old Loudoun Castle, but couldn’t see a thing. My great aunt lived there once (before there was a fire and a theme park) and although I’m not madly interested in family history, we do have her cauldrons and I like to place objects in spaces.

We stopped off at the golf club and I chatted to a lovely man called Frank, he reminded me of my late grandad, the gentle accent. He said Countess Sheila had married a New York policeman and moved to the US, and he sent us up to the kirk to look for Loudoun graves before we headed towards the motorways and the ‘real’ world again.

We didn’t go to any Whisky distilleries, we didn’t play any golf. We didn’t try on kilts or tam-o-shanters. We didn’t drink Irn Bru or play the bagpipes. And I didn’t say ‘Och aye the noo’ to anyone (apart from Adam).

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We were guests of Mackays Hotel and dinner at No.1 Bistro was complimentary (and very delicious).

Gairloch Hotel kindly refunded our stay and assured us that they were undertaking a programme of improvement and fixing the carpet that week.

As always,  my opinions are my own.