Saturday, August 8, 2009

EU trip (Scotland), Days 24-31

Touch the Northern Tip of UK

DAY 24
It was a relaxing day, as the visit to the Peak District does not require a long drive. We contemplated where to go and the choices discussed were Liverpool, Blackpool, North Wales etc. but we settled with the closest option to Manchester and that was The Peak District.
With a fascinating historical and cultural heritage, this unique and diverse region is home to some of the country's finest stately homes, enchanting market towns and picturesque villages. (Courtesy

Early morning Atif and myself went to drop off the rented car at the airport and as we would be driving Mrs. Atif’s car for the next few days and that was very generous of her. We dropped off the car at Manchester International Airport and then came back to have a breakfast before leaving for our day trip.
We were following Atif’s car so now in his shape we had a running gps and a guide with us. We drove through some nice scenic lush green areas and passed some water streams. Then had a stop at a hiking trail to give children some fun and enjoyment. Weather was really good and the track was covered with forest trees. This was an old train track filled up and converted into a trail. We reached a picturesque stream with a road crossing through a very high bridge over the stream, and to our amazement there was a group practicing rope-climbing up/down from this bridge. It was a good experience to see for the kids. This place was quite damp as it was in the middle of forest with a flowing stream gushing through the rocks. The whole of UK has some medieval kind of a feeling; there are old bridges, old buildings, and thin roads as the horse carriages used them several years ago. A ghostly place, we also saw a mine that has now been closed and is hiding behind the trees and vegetation making it more mysterious. The trek back was quite interesting with a passing quick shower sprinkled us. We reached our car and started towards another direction.

Now our destination was another dam and a lake full of ducks. It was another 30 minutes away and we didn’t even notice the time passing as the road was through nice scenery. It was a small park with a stream passing by deep through the gorge. There were several types of ducks here and great entertainment for the kids as they had been missing their own ducks back home for the last so many days. They fed them and played around with them. Then we walked across the park on a trail that led us to an old dam. It was a serene place and quite open and wide greenery filled landscape. Atif and myself continued for some hike further up in the hills before returning back where everyone else was just enjoying the environment and the fresh air.

Driving back to Manchester took us and hour or so and our chat session started again that continued later into the night before we crashed. Another exciting day was over with loads of memories left with us.
I didn’t mention any names of the places in Peak District as I don’t remember the names of the villages and the places we stopped at.
DAY 25
Atif excused for this day and we were at our own for the whole day. We decided to visit the historic town of Chester close to the North Wales. We reached Chester before noon and visited the whole town on foot. We walked on the walls around the city and through the old market place.
While we were on the wall of the city we saw a number of people going towards one side. Upon inquiry we got to know that there was a famous horse race taking place at Chester that day. So we also followed the crowd and saw some interesting races there. It was a carnival there and so many people visiting from all different areas. It was very lively environment. It was evening when we left Chester after doing some shopping there to reach Manchester in the dark.
DAY 26
The next few days were planned in Scotland and we left Manchester as per our plan early in the morning. The road went through the same hills closer to Lake District before entering into UK’s Switzerland (Scotland) as I would call it. The prettiness mesmerizes in Scotland. We were two vehicles. In one, it was our family and in the other one Atif and his wife. We passed very close to the Windermere Lake and Grasmeere where we were a couple of days back and continued our journey towards Scotland through the green hills. There was a forecast of rain but so far the skies were fine. We entered Scotland and a different feeling hit us as the scenery was hilly but there was some sort of difference that one would be able to experience only once you cross the border into Scotland. We had to cross through Glasgow but as soon as we headed towards the jungles of Scotland the rain started very heavily. It was raining cats and dogs though we continued our journey on a slower pace now. We had left the main highway and were going through the smaller roads to enjoy the trip and the rain even reduced our pace. But as we all love rain and unlike the UK people we were enjoying the rain and the drive.

Atif had a cottage booked in a small village called Cannich, close to Inverness, and that was still far. The drive continued and we crossed through Glasgow, it was a nice city. We drove across and clicked some pictures. The drive continued in a heavy rain on a very small road with Lockness on one side of the road and hills and jungle on the other side. The progress remained slow owing to the bad weather but it was fun. We had passed Fort Augustus where we planned to come in the next day or so to climb Ben Nevis – The tallest mountain in the UK. The weather started to open up soon and gave us a window to click some nice snaps with outstanding scenery of Scotland. It was towards the evening when we reached our last turn towards Cannich about 18 miles away. The cottages were right on the riverbank and these were just like mobile homes in the States but finished with wood from the outside. The three-bedroom cottage with one sitting and dining and a spacious and equipped kitchen was a real treat in this area. There was still moisture in the air and the evening brought a bit of chill with it. We off-loaded the cars and placed the cooking stuff in the refrigerator. We brought food to cook for the next 4 days as in remote areas it was difficult to find Halal meat and then we would have to live on Veges so we stocked enough for these few days. The dinner was served and it was a real treat followed by some excellent Pakistani mangos. We had an evening walk along the river before we sat in the sitting area inside our cottage for a long chat. We slept late to finish the lovely day.

DAY 27

The morning was a bit chilly but the sun was out so it looked like it was going to be a good day. We were going to climb Ben Nevis – the highest peak in the whole of UK. For reaching the base camp we had to drive back to Fort Augustus and then we reached a spot from where there were flying chairs going up and many cyclists were taking their bikes for mountain biking. We soon found out that this was not the Ben Nevis base camp rather it was further up a few kilometers, so we drove off to reach the Ben Nevis base camp in the next 10 minutes. We parked our cars in the big parking lot and set off to climb Ben Nevis. It was a fairly simple trek through the fields for the first 20 minutes and then it really started to climb high. At one stage half of the party returned back and myself, Atif, Sajeel and Iman continued our trek up the mountain. As we progressed we really got tired and cold as the temperature kept dropping and we were not properly equipped for the hike. We forgot to carry enough water and supplies to finish the hike. But we still continued our hike for a couple of hours before stopping and heading back, by then we had climbed well over half the distance and there was not much distance left to complete but due to short of supplies we returned. Before we headed back we clicked some nice shots of the surrounding landscape. It was a beautiful view, but the weather changed so rapidly and it started to rain making it more difficult for us to trek.
The drizzle continued for a while but we still pushed on to reach lower altitude to avoid freezing. By now there were a number of hikers on the trek and we passed all sorts of people, some hiking, some running, some tired and taking rest etc. It was a very nice hike and we all enjoyed it thoroughly. It took us a while to reach back the parking lot, where we laid down our lunch on a table and had a well deserved meal. It was already late afternoon; so after the lunch we visited the tourist shop and left for Fort Augustus high street.

We had a walk through the high street and did some window-shopping, clicked some pictures and drove off. The drive back was fun but we arrived back at our destination at night. We had planned a BBQ for that night so as soon as we arrived we started to prepare for the BBQ. The portable grills that we bought, back at Chester, didn’t work well so we had to half cook the meat before we used the gas oven inside the cottage to cook our meal properly. It definitely took a while for us to cook the meal that day but it was worth the effort as it turned out to be a very delicious meal. Of course, sweat mangoes followed it as a desert. It was a long day after that tiring hike so we hit the hay early as we had another long day ahead of us.

DAY 28
This was the day that we would be touching the northern most tip of the UK i.e. John O’Groats. We got up very early to get ready for the long drive to John O’Groats and loop around the northern tip to come back from the other side. We drove through some nice forested roads and bypassed Inverness to cross a long bridge to reach the northern country. Here the far away feeling was getting prominent as we continued our drive. The waterways came closer to the roads at times and at other times we drove far from the water. We made it to the last house on John O’Groats by afternoon; this was a small hut that has been converted into a pretty little souvenir shop. We had a small walk along the sea and just got to know in time that there was a cruise ride that was leaving in the next one minute. We had such frenzy at this stage requesting the counter to radio the cruise, not to leave us behind. The old lady really helped us and did a lot just to get us on this ride. Finally we managed to get on to the ship. Atif and his wife opted to stay behind, as they were not too keen for this cruise ride.

As soon as we stepped on the ship it left the dock, as it was already a few minutes late for its trip. We climbed up to the deck where soon a gentleman came to us for the tickets, since we didn’t have the tickets we bought them while on the ship. This ride goes around a large and abandoned, old island. This was an amazing ride as it went through many fascinating whirlpools that we had never seen before.  In these two hours on the ship we saw some really nice sceneries and wild life including several types of birds, seals, fish etc. Before, whenever we have done some short cruise trips we always got bored after an hour but this one was the first one in which we enjoyed the whole time. The kids loved it because of the nature and sceneries. We even saw some baby seagulls. It remained a very windy day.

Once we were back, we had a nice little lunch of the chicken tikkas, which we brought with us, on a picnic table right by the sea, but the winds kept blowing at high speeds and making it difficult for us to eat.

After lunch we headed to the Castle of Mey for the loop drive back to Inverness. It was already late afternoon and we still had a long drive back to our cottage beyond Inverness.

We were on the road back to Inverness by early evening. The road was long and the drive was tiring and boring on the way back. We made progress slowly and at night we reached back to our cottage. On the way we also saw a bag piper’s band while driving through Inverness, kids really liked it live. This was our last night in Scotland and we were heading back to Manchester and eventually to Milton Keynes the next morning. So we had a very long drive followed by a train ride the next day. We enjoyed our last evening in Scotland to the max before we slept that night. We had another walk along the river just behind our cottage. This was our way to say goodbye to this beautiful area. We slept tight to get up fresh for the drive back to Manchester the next day.

DAY 29
The drive was a pleasure for the first phase of 200 kms but then it turned back into a regular drive on the highway. We stopped at a few places on the way to click pictures but continued our journey, as we had to catch an evening train back to Milton Keynes. Atif booked tickets for us before we left for Scotland and he didn’t even took the payment from us. His hospitality definitely needs appreciation.

We made it back to Manchester well in time and still had a couple of hours to kill so we took this advantage and had a nice late lunch. This was a very hearty meal and then we went out to a park to kill the rest of the time. Kids got another chance for chasing ducks and birds, they don’t get tired do they?
Mr. and Mrs. Atif had been wonderful hosts and we could not thank them enough for their time and love they extended to us and our children in those few days we stayed with them. Hats off to this wonderful couple, you remain in our prayers.
We reached the train station in time to collect our tickets that were booked online. While Atif collected the tickets we tried figuring out which platform was our train coming at. This was our first intercity travel on train in the UK therefore the kids were really excited despite that they were very tired from the long journey. We were into the 29th day of our trip already. The train journey was fun and it just took us a couple of hours before we reached our destinations where Waseem was already there to pick us up from the station.

DAY 30 -31

We spent most of the time during our last two days in the UK shopping as we were traveling on the 31st back to the U.A.E. We visited a number of malls and areas. The packing was really crucial as 3 of our main suitcases were filled with the camping stuff that we brought with us. And now we had a number of things to fit in the other three bags. We spent hours packing our stuff and finally the time came to go to the airport that was Gatwick this time around. We left very early in the morning but still couldn’t beat the traffic and got stuck on the famous London highways. We hardly made it to the airport in time for us to catch the plane. We all came into the terminal running with our entire luggage in the fear of missing our flight but finally made it to the plane just in time. The flight back home was all right despite the airhostess made Hassan angry by not giving him the kiddy pack despite several requests. I had to complain with Emirates Air after reaching back and they sent us a cheap teddy bear by post without any apology. This was unlike Emirates Air, which is generally good at service during the flight. Otherwise the flight was on time and we made it home by evening not without a traffic ticket while my cousine driving us home from the airport and did speeding in excitement so add another 100 dollars to the expense. Cheers!

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