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  • Oct. 8th, 2018 at 4:18 PM

For my non-FB friends who wouldn't know what I've been up to lately, here's a catch-up.

I've been exploring this glorious country again and have now been further north than ever!

Back on the 12th of September I hopped on a train to London then schlepped from Kings Cross to Euston to catch another train... the Caledonian Sleeper to Inverness. It was an interesting trip and it took a few days at each end of the trip for me to get my land-legs back again - once home I kept waking up wondering where the train had stopped and why. I think I even got up and looked out the window to see where we were once!

I had a total blast! The Highlands are incredibly beautiful. We had reasonably decent weather the whole 5 days - well it did rain a bit more on the last day but that was okay, although my camera kept focussing on the raindrops on the coach window and not the scenery! Got some great pics of raindrops!

Our tour guide was fantastic - a lovely scotsman with kilt and sporran and gorgeous accent who had grown up local to the area so he knew all sorts of little tidbits. He also admitted to being into tins and stationery, just like me. Sadly, he's involved with someone. Oh well. However he wrangled all 40 of us expertly and did a great job.

On our first day we had to do a bit of a drive round because we couldn't check into the hotel until 3.30pm, so the first stop was a wool mill with shop and restaurant where we had breakfast (second brekkie for me cos I had porridge on the train) and I bought a belt for my jeans because I'd somehow forgotten to pack one. Then we went to a whisky distillery and after a very instructive tour, had tastings and I now know that whisky is definitely not for me. Blegh!

More driving and we got to our hotel in a lovely little village (township in Aussie-speak) called Newtonmore, right on the upper edge of the Cairngorm mountains. How anyone can live there in all that glorious scenery and not explode from the sheer magnificence of it is beyond me. Oh, and if you have ever watched the tv series Monarch of the Glen, this is where it was filmed. I had not seen the series but in a massive bout of serendipity, it is currently being shown on one of the Sky channels. I keep saying 'I've been there!' while watching :D

The next day was the fourth anniversary of my return to the UK, which might have some bearing on the somewhat disconcertingly emotional response I had to the day's steam train trip - one specific part of it in fact. We went on the Jacobite (aka Hogwarts Express) from Fort William to Mallaig over THAT viaduct... and I promptly burst into tears! Maybe I'm more of a Potterhead than I thought. Definitely a geek though! Coming back I was fine - filmed it with my tablet (first time ever and it came out okay) - but the reaction had its toll. I simply could not sleep that night so the next day I bailed out of going on the day's excursion (coach to Inverness then ordinary train to a fishing village somewhere on the east coast then coach back). And I am so glad I did.

You see, Newtonmore has a really cool thing going for it, other than the Cairngorms. In all there are 132 lifesize gaily painted statues of Scottish Wildcats scattered all around, in people's front gardens, back gardens, on top of the phone box, on window sills, peeking out of bushes, under trees... and they give you a prize if you can find all of them (they being the Wildcat Preservation Society). There's one in the station forecourt, one in the middle of a little loch, two at the hotel! That Saturday afternoon in the space of 3 hours I found 30 of them, and the next afternoon when our Cairngorm Mountain Railway trip was cancelled due to the weather, I found another 17!

So next summer I am going to book myself into one of the hotels and spend a week hunting all the statues. Except I will remember to photograph each one so I can make sure I don't count duplicates.

We did another steam train ride on the Sunday morning - from Aviemore to Broomhill (aka Glenbogle of Monarch fame) and then because we couldn't do the mountain train ride, spent a little time in Aviemore where I found a little Waterstones which has a favoured aussie author's books on the shelf, then returned to Newtonmore where the rest of the group wandered around the Heritage Folk Museum (which I had done the day before) while I went cat-hunting again.

Monday was our last day so we drove to Inverness and got on a train to Kyle of Localsh and drove over the bridge to the Isle of Skye. We didn't stay there long as we had to drive back to Inverness to get the sleeper back to London, but on the way we visited Eilean Donan castle (sadly Connor McLeod wasn't in residence :() and drove a good three-quarters the length of Loch Ness (no sign of Nessie, either).

Back in Inverness we all scattered to find food before retrieving our luggage from the coach and getting on the train to head south. Back in London I found the quicker (and cheaper) way to get from Euston to Kings Cross and timed it perfectly for a train back to Baldock and reality.

The first photo is of the oldest bridge in Scotland (or it could have been the UK) at Carrbridge, then Glenfinnan Viaduct, Wildcat in the loch, Glenbogle station, view from Cairngorm Mountain, Eilean Donan Castle, the last one is Urquhart Castle on Loch Ness.



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