November – A birthday milestone & an engagement!

November has proved to be a very strange and diverse month with huge family announcements.  Having spent the last 5 days of October in Tenerife celebrating Barlie’s 30th birthday with Izzy, it was back to Northampton and Barlie’s house on the 31st October.  I stayed the night as my new bike was arriving by courier the next day and I had to sign for it…..I wasn’t complaining as it was another night in a proper bed!

Celebrating Barlie’s 30th!

Carlos drove the van to Sywell, where we had a pitch booked at Glebe Farm for the next 4 nights and was not too far to Landcross Drive, where we needed to be.  We were going to spend this time catching up on paperwork, washing etc

On the 1st of November, I took possession of my E-bike…..the Cube!  A bike with a battery to enable me to ride to new heights without much effort!  However, it arrived with a flat tyre…so after several phone calls, an inner tube was to be sent by courier to arrive the next day……for me, another night at Barlie’s…..for Carlos, another night with Archie in a field!

4th November saw another digression from van life as I had to hire a car so I could drive to South Lodge in Leicester on the following Monday for ma’s assessment by CHC for the continuation of her funds.

5th November we drove both the van and the hire car to Rutland Water where we were to be based for the next 7 nights at Sweethedges Farm, near Uppingham.  On arrival we quickly realised the location was anything but Sweet!  There had been so much rain we were unable to camp further than the entrance to the site which had the only hardstanding area.  So the van stayed parked in between to huge fir trees.

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The above photos are of Uppingham including the famous school and the church in the square.

6th November I left early on the first frosty morning of winter.  The countryside looked beautiful bathed in a blanket of white frost with blue skies and the morning sun streaming through the trees.  My route took me past Skeffington, where my cousin Chris Bater lives, followed by Tugby, where my aunt, Kathryn Lane lives (dad’s step sister) and past the turn off for Hungarton where my cousin Michael Bater lives.  Another cousin, Kevin Bater lives near Thurnby.  The ghosts of my past were hurtling past me and memories of another life were flooding my mind.  Turning at Stoughton, I cut across the Leicestershire countryside to arrive at South Lodge, where mum lives.   The meeting started at 10am and there were 5 adults in my mum’s little bedroom.   A social worker, the CHC healthcare worker, Linda the nurse, me and mum.  3 hours of gruelling questions to ascertain whether mum qualified for CHC funding ended in disbelief and despair.  Mum, who has Parkinson’s, wheelchair bound and nursed and cared for 24 hours a day, had her funding cut from £800 a week to £155.05…….the implications are very depressing……

7th November another car journey but this time to Birmingham airport to collect Becki who has come to the UK to celebrate mum’s 82nd birthday.

Wendy is 82 with Lisa & Rebecca

10th November mum’s 82nd birthday!  Becki and I drove to Leicester early.  We arrived to find mum already had visitors; her brother Michael & his wife Lindsay.  We had organised a taxi to take mum into town for lunch a bit of  shopping and generally to be spoilt on her birthday.  Lunch was at Carlucci’s, which was a huge disappointment.  However, a visit to a chocolate shop meant yummy treats to be had.  We then headed to John Lewis where mum brought several nice things for her birthday…..we walked past the Christmas shop which made mum cry!   We had tea and chocolates at Cafe Rouge before heading back to South Lodge.  Mum enjoyed her day and managed to speak to her sister Jane who was in Florida visiting her daughter, Samantha.  All her grandchildren wished her happy birthday and her room was filled with cards, chocolates, cakes and fairy lights!

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11th November and a phone call from Izzy……she has been diagnosed with Tinnitus and so after a long conversation, it was decided I should fly up to Aberdeen on Sunday to support her.  A flight was booked to fly from Birmingham just less than an hour before Becki was due to fly back to Koln.  So another twist in our van life had occurred and Carlos agreed he would drive up to Scotland and meet me in Aberdeen.

Jamie and his sausage pasta bake……

12th November Becki & I drove to Birmingham airport and we bade farewell until Christmas.  I arrived in Aberdeen in the dark…..it was absolutely freezing and pouring with rain.  Jamie & Izzy picked me up and we drove back to their new flat on Holburn Place.  I was so happy I made the decision to support Izzy as she had only moved into her new flat 3 days before and I was able to help her & Jamie to unpack.  It’s a gorgeous flat on the ground floor of a huge granite house with enormous ceilings. Two bedrooms, a large lounge and a wonderful bathroom as well as a large dining area and a well equipped kitchen.  Jamie soon had a sausage pasta dish on the go and we sat down amongst the chaos and caught up with all our news.  It was delicious!

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14th November Carlos arrived in Stonehaven, a small coastal town south of Aberdeen.  Our campsite for the next 11 days was situated right next to the beach and within walking distance to the town.  I could hear the sea at night as I lay in bed.  Stonehaven is a very pretty fishing town with a sandy horseshoe bay.  We ate the best fish & chips here at ‘The Bay’ in fact so good we ate them twice in one week!  Next door was Betty’s Ice cream parlour which had an ice cream named after Prince Harry…..Izzy reliably tells me the queues to get in either of these places in the summer, is very long!

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Stonehaven is not only the birthplace of the inventor of the Pneumatic tyre, Robert Thomson but more importantly, the town who invented the ‘Deep fried Mars bar’!  I confess, I didn’t try one……

 

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Stonehaven’s pebble beach.

16th November we drove north of Aberdeen to Newburgh, a beautiful wild coastline and an area known as Forvie sands, which has huge sand dunes and is flanked by the river Ythan.   It is an incredible landscape which for all the world, looks like the Sahara desert.  Archie absolutely loved running up and down these huge dunes.  The beach was almost deserted but for a large colony of seals, who were sun bathing on the shores of the beach.  As we walked along the coastline,  every now again, we would see a seals head pop up out of the sea and they looked, for all the world, like they were following us as we walked along the shoreline, in fact they were just as inquisitive of us, as we were of them.

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Archie running amongst the dunes!

Izzy shopping for a new coat & hat!

18th November a sunny Saturday….a lie in….a girlie chat…a leisurely breakfast before spending the day in Aberdeen shopping.   It was just me & Izzy as the men had gone hiking up in the Cairngorms.  We walked into town, had lunch before mooching around the shops.  It has been a very long time since we had had a day to ourselves and it was glorious.

20th November….an engagement

Barlie & Kieron celebrate their engagement.

Barlie & Kieron got engaged……So happy for them….

21st November…..Barlie’s 30th birthday.  I woke late, my phone had died the night before and so at sometime around 10am, Carlos handed me his phone and Barlie was on the other end…..’moma, where have you been? I’ve been awake since 5am….I have some news for you!’  We cried…..well I cried, so over joyed at the news and so, so happy…..My beautiful Barlie is engaged to Kieron, a wonderful man…..welcome to the family.

23rd November time to say goodbye to Izzy & Jamie with a last supper.  It has been wonderful to spend time in Aberdeen, helping them unpack and set up their new flat and it was lovely to spend time with Izzy.

24th November we drove west out of Aberdeen towards Balmoral, Ballater and Braemar. The weather had changed and it had snowing. The highlands looked magnificent blanketed in white but the roads were good for driving. Temperatures were -6 with a wind chill of -12.  More on Scotland to follow….

Bynack More

 

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We started off our walk at 7am from the Glenmore Lodge where there is limited parking but at that time of the morning we were the first people there. We set off this early because we wanted to catch the sunrise and the glorious colours. This meant starting in the dark. We walked with head torches for about 20 minutes by then there was enough light to see the wide track, the track stays wide and easy-going until the bridge over the Neathy, from this point the path starts to climb, the trees gradually thin and then disappear as the snow line creeps over the heather. The going was not difficult but the weather was not going to provide a sunrise to make headlines.

There was some pink light over Bynack More, where we were heading, but the top was obscured by clouds. The climb became more strenuous as we climbed, gradually we climbed into the cloud, it became colder and with the mist my glasses started to freeze, this did not detract from seeing the grouse that would flush out of the heather as we approached.

The last 900metres were the most difficult as we took the northern route, we had ice sheets to climb over as well as many boulders to clamber over. Good practice for Jamie and his ice-axe. In places the snow drifts were deep enough to reach the knee and it felt like we were real mountaineers. Once again my equipment worked well, the Salomon boots were great as is the North Face jacket, however by the summit I was ruing not having bought new liners for the thin Sealskin gloves I was wearing. The cloud limited visibility, but out of the wind the snow dampens all the noise and it was very peaceful – albeit very cold. We had a bit to eat, cereal bars for me again, still the water was not frozen, as the visibility was so poor it was not worth lingering.

Our route

After bagging my second Munroe we retraced our steps back down to the valley. We saw Ptarmigan on the way down, very interesting birds, they were like large partridges and they were changing to their winter plumage, surprisingly it was possible to get really close to them. We met half a dozen walkers on the way up as we descended. As we finally dropped down below the snow line my hands started to warm up, the weather was improving slowly, and we walked along the An Lochan Uaine – a loch which looks an emerald shade of green encapsulated with hills peppered with Scots pines – a soul warming end to the day.

In all it took us 6 hours to complete the walk/climb.

My first Munro

Jamie and I set off at 7am, in the dark from Aberdeen, heading for the Cairngorms. After driving for about two hours on quiet roads, we got to the car park at the bottom of the Cairngorm funicular. The car park is large and there were a few motorhomes up here. At 9:30 we started up the mountain to look for Jamie’s path which he had to inspect for damage.  Jamie has undertaken to become a volunteer for the mountain area of the Cairngorms and as part of his training, he was given the task of inspecting a path. The climb was a steep path covered with drifting snow. The morning was bright and clear, but we were walking in the shadow of the mountain – the sun is low in the sky at this time of year this far North. Sunrise and sunset are 30 minutes later and earlier compared to where we used to live in Marlow.

Our route
Jamie Vince – my guide and photographer

Towards the top we came into the sunlight which was wonderful as the views opened up, however the wind was also building and the wind chill was going up – our guess was that it was in the region of -12 to -18℃.

As we went over the ridge the wind was really howling probably at 50mph gusts, sometimes it was hard to stand up. Jamie was on a mission, or is it just his age that makes him seem faster and more agile? He took plenty of photos, sadly the path was not visible so inspecting it was not possible.

At the ridge Stob Coire an t-Sneachda we saw some climbers topping out, they commented that the snow was blowing upwards for them as they ascended. From here we could see Cairn Gorm, a munro which Jaime had already bagged.  The weather was clear and Jaime decided it would be good to get to the top of Carin Gorm since the last time he had been there with Izzy it had been cloudy. My hands were freezing by this point but the rest of me was fine (mostly) so we decided to drop down and then make the ascent. This was fairly trivial at this point.

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On reaching the top we sheltered behind the weather station and had something to eat, I was only able to eat energy bars, not my cheese sandwich, because not only were my hands frozen, but the cheese sandwich was probably also frozen. But I had bagged my first Munroe!

We then descended down to the funicular station, which also houses a restaurant selling all kinds of crappy food – chips, pies, sausages, etc. and a gift shop with an xmas market. It was a very strange experience having just come from a wind swept mountain and the effort it had taken to reach the summit to be suddenly confronted with people shopping! I bought Jamie a coffee and then noticed I had lost my sealskin hat, fortunately we were going down next. The cost of going down on the funicular was £10 each, so we decided to walk. The walk turned out to be down a blue ski run back to the car park, so was quite easy and as we were going down, the temperature and wind started to ease. We got back to the car park at about 3pm, and at the bottom station the staff reported they had not seen my hat, but took my details in case it came down at the end of the day.

We headed back to drop our stuff off at the Youth Hostel in Aviemore and then into town to purchase a replacement hat. I decided to get a different type of hat, rather than a beanie hat, so that should they find it, I would then have a choice, so I chose a Sealskin hat with ear flaps, which might fit under my cycle helmet.

Since we had some time, Jamie took me to a Loch where he had previously camped with Izzy.  There is an abandoned castle on an island on the loch and as we were walking, I got a call to tell me they had found my hat and I could collect it the following day.

After our walk we went back to the hostel where I had a shower and spoke to Lisa, before going for dinner at the Old Bridge Inn.   We both ordered braised feather blade of beef – this was excellent and the first time I’ve had this cut of beef, I was won over!  For pudding I had spiced creme brûlée with a raspberry and Campari sorbet which was also lush. To end the meal we ordered a single malt whiskey from the Abel Lour distillery – I was not taken with this – to me it tasted like a blended whiskey.

Then it was back to the hostel where we played pool, Jamie won twice and then we went to bed at about 9pm, Jamie in his single room and me in my dorm with 4 other guys.

The Northern desert

Today we headed north out of Aberdeen in Izzy’s little fiat 500. I sat in the back with Archie – he was going to get a good long walk today. We stopped outside Newburgh where the river Ythan emerges into the North Sea and where we hoped to see seals. We were not disappointed, I’ll let the pictures tell the story.

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You take the high road and I’ll take the low road

Ye’ll tak’ the high road and I’ll tak the low road
And I’ll be in Scotland afore ye

How appropriate is this song! Lisa is flying to Scotland today and I’m driving – and she will definitely get there before me. We really must visit Loch Lomond while we are there. We don’t know how long we will be exactly we will be visiting Izzy and her boyfriend Jamie in Aberdeen.

Meathop Fell Caravan Club Site

When Lisa and Becki left for the airport at 11am, I got the van ready and set off for my first leg to the lake district. It was a wonderful drive even though much was on the motorway, the weather was good, Archie was in the passenger seat, my Driving with Archie playlist was blasting and all was good with the world. I arrived in the Lake district at the Meathop Fell Caravan Club Site before sunset. There was nowhere really good for an Archie walk, so we decide to set off early again the next day.

He’s a dreadful navigator

Our second leg took us from the Lake District to north of Glasgow. Again it was a wonderful drive with good weather in the company of my travelling pal. At the Woods Caravan Park there were not many people and there was an excellent choice of pitches. I chose a pitch with a view of the local hills, it was starting to get cold now it was below freezing overnight, but the skies were mostly clear. The following day we set off early for our third leg.

Our third and final leg was to Stonehaven, I chose Stonehaven because there was a CMC campsite there which was open most of the year, it has a good rail link to Aberdeen and the station is only a 10 minute walk from the campsite. A bonus is that its by the sea. Since the drive to Stonehaven would not take too long, I decided to take the scenic route rather than the direct route. After refilling at Perth I headed round Dundee, but rather than following the A90 north I instead headed east towards Arbroath, home of the famous Arbroath smokies. Driving through it did not seem very interesting, unlike Montrose further up the coast which seemed much more interesting at least geographically. The final road to Stonehaven was along the sea, before arriving into Stonehaven and the Queen Elizabeth Park Club Site. I emptied the grey water and refilled the fresh and found a pitch on the mostly empty site and then took Archie for a walk along the mainly pebble beach. Here I saw my first Oystercatcher which was a bonus.