Monday, 15 December 2014

And took a trip back in time

Well sort of......

I celebrated a "landmark " birthday back in September, I enjoyed afternoon tea with friends and family, followed by the Oscar winning movie from my year of birth and had a few days away with MrS, GlamourPuss and the Prof. Quite lavish celebrations I thought, but nothing on the scale of a certain engineering marvel which shares my birthday. The Forth Road Bridge threw a festival to celebrate, ten days of partying and a massive fireworks finale. Very generously it gave gifts to 50 of us lucky people sharing its birthday. Mine was lunch for two at the Champany Inn just outside Linlithgow. ( @champanyinn)

I didn't get around to making a booking until late last month and so on a damp, grey Friday MrS and I got dressed up and sallied out for lunch. We'd both been before, in past lives, but never together. My last visit was last century.

Not a thing had changed. Well that's not strictly true, there's been some expansion since I was last there adding in rooms and increasing the bar space. But the food and ambience was the same. That wasn't entirely a bad thing, though I think the press cuttings should be taken down and stored in an album. On a dreich day it was very comforting to go into the warm, formal dining room and eat old fashioned but delicious food. The steaks delivered to the next table looked and smelled delicious but a tad heavy for lunch. I followed my starter salad (really a lunch in itself) with salmon, grilled then liberally drippled in butter; this was a treat remember! Veggies sat on a little crescent plate but there was nothing soggy or throwback about them, they were crisp and scrumptious. So like I said, old fashioned, but done well and sincerely.

It's a big old generous room. Solid tables dressed with crystal and silver and fruit or flower displays. Spaced sufficiently far apart to prevent eavesdropping. But MrS and I drew our chairs closer in, as we always do. As we did the first time.

I was glad we hadn't come in September, I don't think it would have suited a brighter day. But in late Autumn when what little light there is fades quickly and mist rises off the Forth plain it was just about perfect.

Sunday, 23 November 2014

And remembers her trip beyond the sun....

Made you look!

Actually it was almost true. A couple of weekends ago, on a gloriously sunny afternoon, MrS and I went for "a wee drive", and as I'm always keen to stretch a day trip to its limits we needed to fill up with petrol. In fact MrS was getting a bit twitchy that we may have gone beyond the point where miles to next fill up exceeded miles left in tank. Twitchy was heading towards tetchy when my confident ( but with fingers crossed) assertion that " I'm sure there's a garage here....." manifested as reality. It was chilly getting out of the car and I remarked on that to the cashier "....Oh yes, we won't get the sun here now until March...". It was just past midday.

Tank full we could continue along a road that has intrigued me many times. If we'd ever managed so far north on childhood trips my curiosity might have been satisfied sooner; back in the '70s before the Ballachulish bridge opened, travellers either crossed Loch Leven by ferry or took the long way round via the head of the loch and Kinlochleven. Now the A82 emerges blinking from Glencoe and speeds north across the bridge to Fort William and Inverness, signs pleading for a detour ignored until now.

Once after a swish past, I must have looked it up. Kinlochleven. What I learned made me desperate to go there. Even its own website calls it "The hidden village in the highlands". I imagine it's mostly seen the back of the sun until the spring and its time in the sun was decades ago. On our visit it was laced with mist.

Kinlochleven is a manufactured community, before the early 1900s it was just two small crofting settlements on either side of the river Leven. Then a huge industrial plant was built, an aluminium smelter and a hydro scheme to provide power. Homes had to be built for the management and workers and so a town which wouldn't look out of place on the outskirts of London grew up in a valley in the highlands of Scotland. I have a bit of a thing for planned settlements so it wasn't unattractive to me, plus it's also post industrial (the smelter closed in 1996) and has an abandoned hotel high up in the hills overlooking it.

View towards old industrial buildings
Luckily the town hasn't been abandoned, it's the penultimate stop on the West Highland Way so gets lots of (tired)footfall from that
Dogstarke on the West Highland Way.
One of the old industrial buildings now houses The Ice Factor, a huge indoor ice climbing wall and another a micro brewery. It's also popular with mountain bikers. Neither activities I take part in, but as Miss Brodie said of the Guides...................* There was a biking event on the day we were there; its bright pennants and pumping music added to the slightly surreal air. I couldn't help thinking of the recent TV programme "Les Revenants", there's a dam high above this town too, with stories told about the lives lived and lost building it.




The story of the town is told in an exhibition within the Post Office building but it was closed when we visited. So we'll need to go back. But perhaps when the sun does.



* {"For those who like that sort of thing" said Miss Brodie in her best Edinburgh voice, "that is the kind of thing they like" } "The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie" Dame Muriel Spark (1961)








Sunday, 16 November 2014

But didn't spot Nessie

On Hallowe'en MrS and I found ourselves in Inverness. MrS had to work (shame) and while he was at his meeting I took Dogstarke for an explore. It had been a little while since I'd been there, and all our visits have been work related (for MrS at least) though we did manage to indulge ourselves on visits by staying at Rocpool Reserve. Since Dogstarke came to stay that hasn't been an option and I've yet to find a dog friendly alternative so I've tended to stay at home. This recent visit could be done as a day trip though, so DogS and I tagged along.

I'd wondered whether to explore out of town either Cromarty on the Black Isle or up to Tain to visit Anta but after a long journey I didn't really fancy getting back in the car; the sun was shining and DogS always opts for walkies so our choice was made. We were lucky with that sunshine too because the level of the river told a tale of heavy rain and the Ness islands were closed, with signs warning of the cancellation of the planned Hallowe'en party. If you don't know Inverness, the river Ness flows, sometimes very fiercely, through the centre, there's a history of severe floods; but on a sunny day it's nice to amble along the tree lined walkway. It criss crosses by a number of bridges, at least two of these with alarmingly "soft" suspension so I kept a tight hold on Dogstarke's lead and was very grateful for the closely woven mesh sides. Not that I'm a wimp or anything.......but I did have to keep telling DogS that it was "a very big river, too big for little dogs". Even ones who love to swim. Actually particularly for ones who love to swim.

Inverness was the destination of my first expedition out of Edinburgh after I'd moved there to study. My boyfriend had a local friend who showed us around and so I had my first non sighting of Nessie, a trip to Urquhart castle and back in the days of more predictable weather, marvelled at a frozen loch high in the hills above the famous one. That icy loch was just my first experience of Scottish winter, the same year I saw Duddingston and Loch Leven frozen solid.


I can't remember exactly when we made that trip, first term probably, so most likely November. This October 31st it was warm enough to set my lunch outside


And yes, greedy guts was eating alone, but in my defence I hadn't read the menu properly and didn't eat the chips(fries).

Not everything had changed though. I took this photo (below) in 1983

And the Victorian market still exists, and didn't appear to have a dog ban so both of us were able to explore. In fact, I shouldn't complain about the unseasonably warm weather, because otherwise I'd have had to go hungry or banish DogS to the car while I ate inside as I didn't find any other dog friendly places, must research better next time.

What I did find was weddings, at least four, including one bride in a gown trimmed with seasonal black lace attended by black clad maids. They must have been relieved by the sunshine on their big days; I hope good times were had by all.

Our drive home took us along the banks of Loch Ness, with another non sighting, perhaps it was too dark, perhaps she was hiding from the rain which had returned with a vengeance, perhaps she's just shy?

Non existent? Noooo. Just elusive.



Friday, 24 October 2014

And loves places that welcome Dogstarke

Travel has become more complicated but much more fun in the two years since Dogstarke came to stay. She doesn't always come with us, plane journeys aren't really practical but she is quite a well travelled doggie with her very own passport, last year she accompanied us to Ile de Re, although most of her travelling has been on home turf. So now my personal filters when searching for accommodation, dining options and days out include "dog friendly". I've found that this varies greatly particularly for hotels; I've been more than slightly confused by "dog friendly" hotels where dogs are not allowed in public areas nor allowed to stay alone in rooms: the loveliest dinner can be spoiled by that little face gazing back at you from the car. We now look for pub/restaurants with rooms which often let you eat from the main menu in the bar with a happy dog at your feet. It's nice when you can stay in the "good" rooms too, after all there's usually an extra charge for cleaning once your dog has left, so it's galling to be allocated the tired, due for refurbishing room around the back "convenient for letting your dog out". I know there will be irresponsible dog owners but most take great care that their dogs don't leave a trace. When I rented out self catering accommodation I only once had to do extra cleaning to remove traces of dog: several times if I hadn't actually greeted the dog on arrival I'd have been hard pressed to have known it had been there.

Rant over, where would I recommend?

The lovely Traddock at Austwick (, The George and Dragon at Clifton ( and ThePlough at Lupton ( are all places with great food which are also very welcoming to dogs - and their owners.

Living in Edinburgh we were really spoiled, our old neighbourhood of Bruntsfield was full of good dog friendly spots, Ruby Shoes (, Falko (Konditermeister) ( and The Edinburgh Bookshop ( were particular favourites.

With the help of the wonderful DugsWelcome site ( we are exploring our new (temporary) home of Leith. So far we really like Cafe Tartine (find them on Facebook), The Printworks cafe and Sofi's bar. If you are a dog owner in or visiting Scotland I would definitely recommend signing up to Dugs Welcome.

Salad and Tartine at Cafe Tartine
And so to the travelling between our homes...Mhor84 (, the Crianlarich hotel ( pizzas for us and big bowls of water for DS) and The Real Food Cafe, Tyndrum (excellent fish and chips, great sustainability ethos) are regular stopping off points on our journeys.


Then at journey's end?

Still exploring our nearest town but mostly relying on good weather and outdoor seating. Though I do know at least one dog friendly local bar

But I'm not telling you where that is..........





Monday, 20 October 2014

And remembers sunshine through the rain....

I'm sitting writing this enjoying the Autumn sun, no wait a minute it's raining, no sunny, um rainy, err......I think you know what I mean.


The last of the summer flowers are hanging on in there so what better time to remember a sunny trip a little over a month ago.

September, the month of back to school, berries and my birthday; this year ahem a "landmark" one, which called for a celebration. A very special birthday tea and a screening of "My Fair Lady" on the day, followed by a jaunt away with Mr S, GlamourPuss and the Prof.

Palma, Mallorca. An ideal spot for a long weekend break. Just a short flight from the UK, a quick journey into the city from the airport, a lovely compact old town, a fine Cathedral, galleries, good shops and eateries and beaches nearby. The weather in early September was gorgeous, still hot sunshine, but the city would be good all year round. We stayed at the beautiful Hotel Can Cera right in the old town. It's an old mansion converted very sympathetically into an hotel; they've retained the lovely old rooms but not overlooked modern comforts - great bathrooms, wifi, and comfy beds. I gave it a well deserved 5* review on TA.

One of the salons in the Can Cera

It wasn't just the surroundings that were lovely, the staff were too; friendly and helpful, making restaurant suggestions and bookings and giving us a late check out so that we could enjoy our last morning.

Palma is a great city for wandering in and we didn't make too many plans, which was just as well as the street names didn't always seem to match the maps. We visited the Cathedral, admired the Modernisme architecture (like Art Nouveau not Moderne) and had great fun at the market..

.......choosing a jamon gift for MasterStarke who was home looking after little DogS.


...and wondering what we would order for our yacht;

.........we made sure we stayed hydrated,

........and did a little window shopping.
We also took a trip out of town on the pretty wooden train and tram to Soller and Puerto Soller. Yes, it's a touristy thing, but also a fun one, both towns are pretty, good for strolling in and full of places to eat and drink. We took a dip in the sea, even the GlamourPuss, though unlike Peter Sarstedt's lovely, it's her hair she never gets wet! I found it strange to have hot sand rather than cold pebbles under my toes.

So if you fancy a short break,












Monday, 6 October 2014

And remembers the summer on a rainy day

I'm actually remembering a rainy stay, but the hotel was warm and comfortable so the weather didn't matter. Back in August, between moving out of our home of the past eight years and getting the keys to our new one, Mr Starke treated us to a couple of days luxury at Airds Hotel, Port Appin. Even though we hadn't done all the heavy lifting ourselves it was lovely to have a break away from boxes,to kick back and relax. Airds is well placed for that; Port Appin must be one of the loveliest spots in Argyll, which isn't short of lovely spots.

Looking out across Loch Linnhe from Airds hotel.

The views are spectacular whatever the weather, steely grey seas when it rains and stripes of turquoise and blue in the sunshine, often both in the space of a few minutes, bright flashes of orange membretia and craggy rocky shores. The weather didn't deter us and we walked along the shore; to the north is Castle Stalker on a tiny tidal island but still too much of an island to reach on that walk. Mark that one down for another day.


Dogstarke enjoying the walk

A quick, hot shower chased away the chills then we were off to the lawyers and a quick peek at our new home.

Airds, well prepared for the weather

Back at Airds we settled with our books and watched sea from the warmth of our room; later we would have a bath and a good dinner.

Next day, all change, two trucks, boxes, more boxes, placing, re-placing, a picnic lunch, more placing and replacing, a cup of tea; watching the sea from a room of our own.




Saturday, 4 October 2014

And takes time out to remember some.....

Gosh, it's been an age. I posted about the first half of my summer holiday and then...nothing. But I've been travelling lots; partially for leisure and partially due to circumstances. We moved out of our old home in early August and are now spending our time travelling between our temporary city flat and our new-to-be permanent home. In between we managed to fit in trips to three very lovely places.

After our return from John O'Groats, and my narrow escape, we spent a few glorious sunny days in the Yorkshire Dales. We based ourselves at "The Traddock" in Austick, a village we awarded "RP"* status.

*Ridiculously Pretty

Austwick is built from gorgeous golden stone, the main road by-passes without leaving it passed by; it has a village green, a shop, a church and two inns. We stayed in one of these, The Traddock. We spent three great nights there, PapaStarke joined us and we ate and slept well. We also enjoyed the loveliest summer weather.


The garden at The Traddock


Just some of the delicious food we enjoyed


On our last evening we watched the WI parade to their 90th birthday celebrations in the village hall.



The brass band packing up,after serenading the WI.

We did plenty of walking in Yorkshire, up to the top of Malham cove (even octagenerian PapaStarke) and under the earth in Ingleborough cave.




Hatted up ready to explore the caves

And inside..........

Back on the surface we climbed up to find the entry to Gaping Gill

But stayed well away for the edge, that one's for real cavers.


All that exercise builds up an appetite and, despite the promise of our dinner at The Traddock, we made room for a Yorkshire tea.


We arrived in Yorkshire just after the "Grand Depart" and there was still a festive atmosphere and lots of yellow bikes.


That's the end of this instalment of my travels, but I don't intend to leave it so long before I post the next ones - a luxury break between moves and another in Mallorca to celebrate a landmark birthday; I hope you'll return to join me remembering them. I usually review places I've stayed on TripAdvisor, unless, with one notable exception, I have nothing good to say about them. So there's more on The Traddock and the subjects of my next posts there.

Happy travelling.


Sunday, 6 July 2014

And had a narrow escape

It's the holidays! We had a brilliant time last year in France and had planned to return to explore more of the Atlantic coast. But I failed to find any really great dog friendly accommodation in the area we hoped to visit so that plan was put aside and we decided to explore a bit closer to home. Not that close though, but the very top right of mainland Scotland, basing ourselves at John O'Groats. Despite its fame John O'Groats isn't at the furthest point North, that is claimed by Dunnet Head.


Dunnet Head seen from Dunnet Bay

Nor is the most northerly town, that is Thurso and the most North Easterly point is Duncansby Head

Duncansby stacks south of Duncansby Head

John O'Groats is famous because it forms one end of "end to end" journeys from Lands End, the two furthest apart settlements on the mainland of Britain. And of course it has a famous signpost.

This might not be the "official" one

We stayed in a lodge at the Natural Retreats resort ( where we enjoyed the comforts,

And Dogstarke watched the bunnies.

Despite appearances it wasn't all sitting around and drinking wine.....

And the sun didn't always shine.

We explored lots of heritage sights, from ancient fossil quarries to a croft house occupied into the very late 20th century (more on these later), had some great walks and I even managed a swim, though I was disappointed that the Trinkie pool cut into the cliffs just outside of Wick wasn't open.

There were signs that it is being cleaned out ready for the season but I had to make do with a scramble off the rocky shore at John O'Groats.

We saw lots of wildlife, as well as the bunnies there were loads of seabirds and seals. And therein my lucky escape.

Are you familiar with the Selkies?

Seals who shed their skins and live on dry land in human form. There are many stories told around the shores of Britain, particularly in the north of Scotland, the Islands and in Wales. Their tales are also told in Nordic lands. In a more mordern tale, think of my namesake Marina in the great 1980s movie "Local Hero".

Well, on our last day, after our walk to Duncansby Head we stopped off on the beautiful Sannick Bay.

Dogstarke played in the surf and I had a paddle. Then I spotted this:

And I watched, as s/he watched me, and dived and resurfaced and I went deeper and deeper into the water trying to get a better photo. Until my rolled up trousers were soaked and I came to my senses.

Phew! Lucky escape.