Sunday, 28 August 2016

Hot Hot Hot in Holland

So on Wednesday morning, I ran around getting our packing done - trying to pack as little as possible but make sure we have everything for a day in the city and 2 days camping.  Being British I wanted to take raincoats, but Chananja told me not too so I left them behind.

Our plane
Once I thought I had it all sorted, we headed into the village to meet up with Susan, Harrison, Alfie and the two girls for a play in the park.  Tom, Alfie and Harrison were straight to it - having boys own adventures, collecting blackberries.  It was lovely to see.

At 12, we said goodbye and headed to Bernies to meet Matt for lunch.  Baked beans for me, fish fingers, chips and beans for Tom and soup for Matt.  Tom and I then packed up the car and headed for the airport.  We passed lots of traffic jams going the opposite way to us, but were unaffected and made good time.  We breezed through check-in and actually had time to do a little bit of shopping and watch planes etc.  The airport was pretty busy - finding two seats together was difficult but we got there in the end.

Our flight boarded early, then we sat on the tarmac for ages, but we arrived in Schipol on time so can't complain.  It was hot, Hot, HOT!  I felt like we had been on a long-haul flight to Asia - the heat and humidity hit us big time as we walked off the plane.  It was over 30 degrees.  It's nuts when you think about it - we are only 300 miles from each other!  We had to negotiate a huge, HUGE passport queue before we collected our bag and headed into the concourse looking for Chananja and Raimo.  Didn't see them at first, think they had found a seat, getting bored of looking for us.

We then headed to the bus stops to get a bus back to their place.  Problem - there was no bus - the last one had already left!  Chananja ended up having to call her neighbour to come and collect us - oops!  Never mind, everyone was good humoured about it.

Think we got to Chananja's around 9.15pm, Raimo and Tom then started playing nerf guns - in fact they were playing immediately, the language barrier was none existent!  Ramio and Tom went to bed at 10pm, whilst we stayed up chatting until past 1 in the morning.

Dam Square
It was a very hot, sweaty night - I didn't sleep that well, sweating, sweating, sweating.  Tom did better - we were sharing a double bed - he was out for the count when I joined him and didn't move all night.  I wish I could do that!

On the Canalbike
Typical Amsterdam Scene
We got up late in the morning - think it was past 8.30am, then organised ourselves for the next 3 days - we are going camping, had breakfast (bread, cheese, celeriac salad and crab salad).  Tom tried Raimo's breakfast of choice: bread and butter with chocolate sprinkles and failed - it was too sweet for him.  He reverted to just bread and butter.  Oh and it was hot, Hot, HOT again - over 30 degrees.  It was going to be a hot sweaty day.

Driver not looking where she is going!
We packed the car and headed to Osdorp (Chananja's old stamping ground) where she parked the car, near to a sushi restaurant where we were going to have an early tea.  We then got a tram (Tom was very excited) to Dam Square - to see the palace etc.  The plan for the day was to go canal biking.  I thought that meant biking along the canals, but it meant getting a pedalo and cycling it around the canals.  Great fun, and lovely to see the city from a different point of view.  First of all we had to find from where to get the pedalo.  We walked down some main streets to Leidseplein where we eventually found the right place. We then pedalled around the canals. We took it in turns: Chananja and Raimo, then me and Tom (Tom having to almost sit on the floor to be able to reach the pedals) and then me and Chananja. I had no idea about navigation and left it to Chananja, my steering was pretty shocking too, but the experience was fab, and with the sun shining the city was looking very handsome.

I Amsterdam
Nik & Tom 'a' Amsterdam
It was hot, Hot, HOT though so sweaty work. After an hour we had got ourselves to the Rijksmuseum and dropped off the boat and picked up an ice-cream each. How do you know when it is hot? Tom has an ice-cream and he did. We walked through the Rijksmuseum and found ourselves in a park with an 'I Amsterdam' and a huge paddling pool. We headed straight to the paddling pool and all got in. It felt so so so so good to have cool water lapping around our legs. Once refreshed and recovered, we headed to Vondelpark which we walked through to Surinameplein where we got the tram back to Osdorp and the sushi restaurant. By now Tom was beside himself with tiredness and heat. We had been constantly drinking all day, but he hadn't ate much (my mistake I think). We sat down and ordered our sushi - but Raimo's arrived first and Tom could not comprehend that Raimo could have some and he couldn't - we had full on tears! We were all a little stunned, Raimo generously handed some of his over for Tom to eat - but there was no placating him - he had gone past the point of no return. Once some sushi had gone in, Tom settled down and enjoyed himself - he managed to eat more than me - ordering one more round than me. It was good stuff too - I think Matt would enjoy this place.

Cooling down
Once we had all finished, we walked back to the car, bought yet more drinks and then headed across Holland to the campsite where Chananja's parents have a caravan. It was a 2.5 hour hot drive. We arrived at 8.15, said a quick hello to Chananja's parents and put the tent straight up as the daylight was ebbing away. Raimo and Tom went to bed whilst Chananja and I stargazed - just like being back in Australia again (don't think either of us would have predicted that this would happen 16 years down the line). A good, yet very hot and sweaty day.

Group shot
Not a great night's sleep - we were packed in like sardines in Chananja's tent. I was between Tom and Raimo and suffered from fingers up
Nice lake
Pleased with his bike
my nose, foot in my face, wriggles, elbows in my cheeks etc etc, as well as a lot of sweating. We got up quite late - around 8.30, did teeth etc and then headed to Piet and Dineke's for breakfast: fresh bread from the campsite bakery with cheese and ham - yummy. Tom went for bread and jam after not enjoying Raimo's breakfast of choice yesterday. We then went to collect some bikes - one for me and a small one for Tom. Tom was very excited. Bikes in Holland are very different to bikes in England. They are made for leisurely bike rides on the flat, not mountain biking up and down hills. Tom's, therefore, was very heavy. However, it had a luggage rack on the back and a stand. That was all that was needed. He was delighted. He HAD to have luggage each time we went out, he had to pedal everywhere on the campsite - even if it was just round the corner and he was in charge of the stand etc. They couldn't have chosen a better activity for him.

In the morning, we cycled through some heather moorland to a lake where the boys did some pond dipping and Tom tried to swim. (He failed though, it was too shallow for swimming). The lake was surrounded by sand. There were only a few other families there. It was a lovely, idyllic place. Dineke and Raimo spent the whole time pond dipping - Tom dipped in and out but really got into it by the end. They both had a good bucket full of bugs.
A good haul

Pond dipping
We cycled back to the campsite for lunch: bacon and eggs on bread - very nice too. We then got in the cars and headed out to Dwingelderveld National Park, which is the largest wet heathland of Western-Europe.  The heather was out as well - so it was shining purple in the sunshine.  We went to a viewpoint and then the visitor centre where we got more pond dipping equipment - need to brush up on my pond insects as the Dutch names on the identification sheets were nothing like English ones.

After a look around a butterfly garden, we then headed back to the campsite where Tom, Raimo and I jumped into the very cold pool for a swim.  It was lovely - instant relief from the hot, sweaty days we have been experiencing - but it was very cold!  We spent a while playing piggie in the middle.  I managed to escape to dry off but was made to return to the pool for another session.

After that we got dried and dressed and headed to Dineke's and Piet's for a BBQ dinner.  I knew this was coming my way.  AND I knew it would be big.  They believe in over catering, nothing would be worse than running out of food.  They knew that I have lost a lot of weight, and were on a mission to fatten me up again.  There was no point trying to fight it - so I was a good guest and ate everything I was given.  It was all good food - just lots of it - and all meat and carbohydrates, not much in the way of vegetables, although there was a fruit salad.  My stomach was screaming by the end of it!

Very happy cyclists
By the end of dinner, both boys were playing up so we decided to call it a day and put them to bed early.  We cycled back to our tent and they went to bed.  It took almost 2 hours for them to go to sleep - every excuse in the book was made to avoid falling asleep.  They worked in shifts as well: it was almost as if they planned it.  In the end Chananja had a word with Tom and they went quiet and went to sleep.  Phew - should have done that much earlier!  

Me and two boys

I spent another night being attacked by Tom in his sleep - oh joy! He was so deeply asleep, I couldn't wake him up or reason with him! We were up earlier and made our 8.30 breakfast appointment - more buns with cheese and ham. Then we headed out on a 17km bike ride in the Heather moorland. It was beautiful - we had forest, sand, flat land, nice farm houses, horses, sheep, everything - and all in the sunshine. It was lovely. Tom was delighted to be on his bike again - he had Soffie Bear as his luggage - so I was on duty to check he was ok. He also got the hang of being on the other side of the road very well and was looking in the right direction almost immediately. For him it wasn't the destination, it was the journey!
Riding a horsey

Great swimming games
We got back and had lunch - more buns with cheese, ham and egg and then after some quiet time, trying to get some diary work out of Tom (not very successfully) we went for a swim. I decided to bow out this time. Raimo and Tom were pretty happy playing a water polo type game for a while.

Eating ice cream - it must be hot!

After more ice-creams we called it a day at the pool and returned to Dienke and Piet's. The boys then played football solidly for the rest of the afternoon - they were very very hot, but didn't care. In fact they spent every spare minute playing football. Chananja was nervous because Raimo's knees are liable to 'go' at any moment, causing him pain, but luckily they didn't and they were having fun. Neither of them get to go on holiday with other children, so they were relishing the opportunity for games the whole time.

Great friends
We had another BBQ for tea - some left over food from last night and some. I did good and ate up again. We then headed back to Amsterdam - it was another hot, sweaty ride. Both boys fell asleep which was a blessing - they were so so tired, they needed it. We got back around 8.30pm. We did a quick FaceTime chat with Matt and I chucked Tom in a shower (he's come out with a rash which I think is a heat rash) and put him straight to bed. Chananja and I tried to stay up a little longer - but we were both exhausted as well and gave up and crashed.

Football camp

I had a slightly better night, although it was still hot, Hot, HOT! Got up at 8am, packed quickly and were on our way to the airport at 9. Checked in - had an argument with KLM - they wanted 35 Euros from me to put my case in the hold. It was free from Manchester? No-body could explain why. There was no mention of being charged for hold luggage on my paperwork. I might as well have flown Easyjet - I thought you could escape that with a scheduled service! But that was that - it was 35 Euros or take the case on as hand luggage. Hand luggage it was then! I gave Chananja all my liquids (they were worth much less than 35 Euros). We then had lunch - pancakes for the boys (with the shape of an airplane made from icing sugar and sprinkles for them to play with) a cheese and mushroom pancake for me (well we are in the land of pancakes) and some sandwiches for Chananja. Then it was time to say goodbye and head to security and passport control. More queues - my small bag got searched this time because there were loose coins in it (I had had to take them out of a plastic bag so I could put my small liquids in it!) A quick look around the shops and then to the gate. We boarded on time but were delayed because...people had too much hand luggage with them - there wasn't enough room for it all - so some had to go in the hold!!!!!! I mean really, I hope they got fined for missing their time slot!!

Airplane pancake
Other than that we had a good trip back, it was nice and cool in Manchester - 21 degrees, felt lovely and refreshing. Drove back along the motorway and to Ingleton. Matt wasn't here as he was playing cricket - well supposed to be - it got cancelled due to a dangerous pitch. He pitched up about half an hour after we arrived home.

Wow - what a holiday. It was only 3 days, but we packed so much in. Thank you to Chananja and her family for being such great hosts and arranging so many great things to do. Much appreciated. Until next time...

Saturday, 27 August 2016

Boys' day out

Tom with "Isle of Mull"
As I was to be on my own for 5 days from Wednesday, we decided that I would take Tom out for a day on Tuesday. He mentioned that he would like to do a museum (very grown-up!), and in the end we decided on the National Football Museum in Manchester, which of course involves a couple of train rides (another good reason).

We drove from Ingleton to Lancaster, and got the First Trans-Pennine Express train, but not before we had seen a beautiful freshly painted Class 37 (Tom's favourite diesel engine) going the other way towards Barrow.

Our train was surprisingly empty, and Tom managed to charm a young Chinese lady, who was on her way to Liverpool for sightseeing, and an older English lady, who was clearly impressed by Tom's chatty affable nature.

Nice lunch
Naturally, we had to watch trains at Piccadilly Station for a good half hour once we arrived, which involved plenty of Virgin Pendolinos and one enormous container train, which he enjoyed very much. He counted 40 containers, which was probably about right. We then wondered down into central Manchester, wondering where to have lunch. As luck would have it, we came across a tapas restaurant with lunch specials, so a lunch of lovely Spanish food was the order of the day.

After a quick trip to Fatface to replace the hat that Tom left on a train last time we were out together, we headed to the Football Museum. Entry is free, but for a £5 donation,  you can have your photo taken with the actual Premier League trophy (which was so heavy he couldn't lift it) and a go on the penalty shootout tournament upstairs.

To be honest, a lot of the exhibits in the museum went over Tom's head rather - I think he would've been happier watching highlights clips from years gone by, but there was just about enough interest there for him. We were probably there only for an hour and a half or so, but I enjoyed it, and I think he will too in a couple of years.

The trophy
I had promised him a tram ride back to Piccadilly, but the lines were being dug up, so we opted for one of the free city centre buses instead. Big mistake. It was a very hot day, there was no air conditioning, the traffic was terrible, and we got the bus going the wrong way round a circular route. In the end, I couldn't bear it any longer, so we jumped off at Oxford Road station and got the train one stop back to Piccadilly, where we only had about 10 minutes watching trains before ours arrived.

The journey back was equally uneventful, and we got a table again, meaning that he was able to play with the multitude of vehicles he brought in his rucksack.
We had a slight sulk when I told him we were going home for tea with mummy rather than a pub tea at The Bridge Inn in Tatham, but all in all it was a pleasant day out.

Sunday, 21 August 2016

Back on the road home

Arriving at Ullapool
On Saturday morning we were up at 5.15 so we could be at the ferry terminal in Stornoway for last check in at 6.15.  We boarded the ferry and set sail dead on time at 7am.  This time we were on a very nice 2 year old ferry, M.V Loch Seaforth.  First stop was the restaurant for breakfast as we were all starving and then we relaxed into the 2.5 hour journey to Ullapool.

We were very lucky as the weather, once again was amazing.  The crossing was more like a scenic cruise - you could be forgiven for thinking that you were in Scandinavia, as we cruised down a long sea lock amongst islands and mountains towards Ullapool.  We had expected Ullapool to be another Uig - i.e. just a ferry port, nothing more.  We were wrong, first of all it was the most scenic port I have ever been to (at the head of a loch, surrounded by purple mountains) and secondly, it was a pretty and thriving town - lots of amenities and good looking eating establishments.  Shame we had a lot of miles to eat up today as it would have been good to hang around and investigate.  I have a feeling we will be back one day to investigate more.
View from the observation lounge

We drove, drove, drove through the Highlands, there aren't many roads in the Highlands meaning that you can't really take a direct route back home.  We drove east to Inverness and then south to Pitlochry.  We decided to stop off at House of Bruar again and were glad we did as we had a fantastic lunch - fish pie and roast lamb, which we divided between the 3 of us.  We discovered a waterfalls walk behind the venue which we investigated, it was a good 2.5 mile walk in the forest following a waterfall up a valley (a very mini version of the Ingleton falls walk).  It was very pleasant and just what we needed to stretch our legs.  When we got to the bottom we came across a group of people taking part in canyoning.  They were jumping into pools off cliffs etc and was actually quite a good spectator sport.  Now if I was in my 20s I would be up for it big time, but now I would be worried about hurting myself in some way (very boring middle aged comment I know!)

Nik and Tom at the Falls Of Bruar
We headed on down to Livingston where we had booked a Travelodge room for the night.  The weather turned on us - it poured on us, it was a grey, drizzly horrible journey, we were happy to get there.  We checked in, had a rest and then headed out to Tony Macaroni for dinner (ground floor of the hotel) which had the biggest menu I have ever seen and churned out ok food.  So glad we didn't have to go any further.  We all collapsed into bed around 9pm.

Sunday we got up and headed to a local Wetherspoons for breakfast which was astonishingly cheap and good value for money.  The hotel, it turned out, was part of a retail development including a designer outlet centre and a number of other retail parks.  We decided to do a quick once around, Matt and I both bought some clothes (always the way: when you least expect it, shopping is easier than when you are under pressure!), I spent a quick half hour in Hobbycraft (I could spend 2 hours in that shop, although still wouldn't buy too much, especially cake stuff as it is so overpriced there).  We then headed further south.  We stopped off at Gretna services for lunch (a doughnut each) and then home.

We got back around 3pm, unpacked, and then decided to head to the Old Post Office for post holiday platters.  A perfect end to a lovely holiday.

Friday, 19 August 2016

Day 6: Black Houses

Beautiful boy
Yet another sunny day - hurray.  Matt is likening my luck with Scottish weather to witchcraft now!  Anyhow, today we headed to Garenin and the Black Houses there, on the way we found 3 highland moos - hurray.  Back to the Black Houses - these were last inhabited in 1974 and once empty were looked after as it was realised that they would be the best example of old style living on the island.  They are long houses made of stone with no windows and a thatched roof.  Inside were 3 rooms: a bedroom, a living room and another room which held either a loom or animals depending on your trade / lifestyle.

One had been converted into a shop / cafe.  Another had been kept as it was in 1974 - with lino on the floor, box beds, a big dresser, peat fire and a loom in the outer room.  Another had been converted into a museum where you could learn about typical life in a Hebridean village, and watch films about weaving Harris tweed and cutting peat. 

Garenin Black Houses
The other houses (there were about 10 in total) had been converted into self catering holiday cottages or bunk houses - a very interesting place to stay I'm sure.

Once we had had our fill, we decided to go on a walk around the coast.  First of all we headed to the cafe to have tea and a bun for fortification - very nice it was too.  There was a way marked walk to a beach 4 miles away from the Black house village.  That, however, wasn't the reason we wanted to do the walk, we had seen in the news that a 17,000 ton oil rig platform had washed up on the coastline after breaking free from its tug boat on a journey from Norway to Malta.  It was quite a sight!  Not exactly what you expect to see on a scenic bit of coastline in Northern Scotland.  It had been there a couple of weeks - we could see people on it, but it was completely wedged on the rocks.  Good luck to getting it a float again!

The Transocean Winner
We walked back to the Black Houses the same way we got there.  Have I mentioned that the whole of Lewis is essentially peat bog?  This makes walking here interesting, stay here too long and you would suffer from trench foot!  We splashed and squelched our way along the path, trying to stay to the rocky bits of the path as much as we could.  When we got back to the black house village - we all had very peaty legs and clothes!

On the way back we were discussing why the black houses were called so.  Matt and I thought it might have something to do with the burning of peat turning everything black, but we weren't sure so Tom asked the museum staff.  Turns out that the new houses that were built for the pensioners stoically living in the black houses were called white houses because they had big windows to let in the light.  In response the old houses were then called the black houses as they had no windows.  Another theory is that the Gaelic for thatch is quite close to the Gaelic for black - so it could have got lost in translation.  Anyway the lady was lovely, spent some time chatting to us and to Tom.  It was a lovely welcoming place.  
Salvage work

We decided to check out a tea room we discovered on the way in called The Blue Pig. We got there, had a look around to discover that the owner was no where to be seen, and when it said tea room it meant the drink of tea and nothing else - there certainly was no-where to sit down and no food to be seen.  Oops!  Luckily Matt had noticed a Community shop and cafe in a village down the road, so we headed there.  It was an interesting place run by two men that hadn't been to a customer service school!  We were the only customers and it took us an hour to order and eat 2 sets of sandwiches and sausages chips and beans for Tom.  Not great.  They were gruff and more interested in arguing about who should take the order than actually providing a service.  Oh hum, never mind the food filled us up.
Another beauty

We drove back to the cottage, on the way we found 3 more Highland coos - hurray again.  After showering and scrubbing very hard to removed the peat from our legs we headed back to Stornoway for Friday night dinner.  We decided on Thai today and were very impressed with our food.  We headed back home and packed the car up - we are catching the 7 o'clock ferry tomorrow and need to be at the docks for 6.15 - ouch!

Thursday, 18 August 2016

Day 5: Butt of Lewis

At the Butt of Lewis
 Today was a bit cooler and a bit cloudier, but dry so not too bad.  We decided to head up the west coast to the Butt of Lewis - the most Northerly point on the island, with the title of windiest place in Britain.  We packed up all our warm clothes ready for the onslaught of wind.

It was quite a dreary drive, through slightly undulating peat bog and through tired looking villages (no picturesque white cottages here).  One piece of excitement, we finally found some Highland cows.  There were only 3 of them, and they all had their back to us, but they were there and were splendid.

The local wildlife
We got to the Butt of Lewis, got out of the car and discovered not even a whisper of a breeze!  Nothing at all, we couldn't believe it - we were all wearing our warm clothes for no reason.  Oh well. There is a working lighthouse at the Butt and it is famous for spotting a whole heap of sea birds, but we only saw seagulls (mind you we aren't great at spotting other birds so we may have missed them).

We stayed a while to take photos and wait for the famous wind (no luck) before heading back towards Stornoway.  We stopped off at the only cafe on the road - Comunn Eachdraidh Nis, which was a Community building which had been turned into a museum and had a cafe at the back.  It was both weird and great at the same time.  The cafe was full of old people eating huge cream teas, however, when we looked at the menu cream tea certainly wasn't on it.  Each table was laid with a tea service - china cups, saucers, side plates etc.  All very 'old person' if you ask me, but the waitress was young, and the menu very very reasonably priced.  Tom had a pizza for £1.20 - a decent sized pizza with side salad - not sure they are here to make a profit?  I had a toastie and Matt a Scotch broth.  We then finished up with 2 slices of very good sponge cake.  We then looked around the museum which was actually quite well done and quite interesting.  It was free entry (of course -you don't seem to have to pay for anything here) and a nice interlude.
Not looking at you!

We carried on our way back to the cottage, stopping at a stone circle and a 20ft monolith.  Strange thing about the monolith, next door to it was a cottage, which was obviously inhabited by Israelis - they had the Israeli flag up, and each window had a poster / embroidery / other art work all in Hebrew.  Not what you would expect in a lonely corner of an Outer Hebridean island.
20 foot standing stone

We returned to the cottage, had showers, watched some Olympics and then headed to Stornoway in search of dinner.  We ended up at An Lanntair - the arts centre, where we had great nosh.  Freshly made fish and chips for the lad, pork & beef burger with cheese and black pudding for Matt and a wonderful seafood chowder full of juicy morsels of fish for me.  We left happy.

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Day 4: Stornoway

Tom and a Lewis Chessman
Today, we decided to stay closer to home and headed to Stornoway for a look around.  It was another lovely day - blue sky and sunshine - hurray.  Stornoway is by far the biggest settlement in the Outer Hebrides and bigger than most settlements in the Highlands.  It has a population of 6,000 (3x Ingleton) but then there are lots of outlying villages which brings the population up to over 10,000, so significant.  The Isle of Lewis is quite different from other islands in that it doesn't rely on tourism for its income (although I'm not sure what it does rely on other than fishing etc).

You would think that Stornoway would be full of touristy shops, but they were pretty few and far between.  There were quite a few empty shops, giving you the impression that the town is a little down on its luck at the moment.  There was a Boots, an Argos, an M and Co., a bookshop, a sports shop, an Edinburgh Woollen Mill (of course), a couple of Harris Tweed shops and that was pretty much it, oh, except for a wool shop which I couldn't help but investigate - was one of the best I have ever been in - I could have happily spent hours in there looking at all the yarns, ready to get inspiration, but when you have two boys tagging along, that's not an option.  There is a cinema / arts centre and somewhere there is a swimming pool and an airport and that is Stornoway.

Lews Castle
Obviously, it is also a working harbour, we found a nice sculpture of a fishing man, looked at the boats, walked around to the port where there was a freight ship in and that was the town covered.  However, it was now time for lunch, so we headed to the grounds of Lews Castle where we knew there was a cafe called the Woodland Centre which is rated as the second best place to eat in the town.

Now, since we have been here, we have only ate out once, and that was fish and chips last night.  Unusual for us on holiday (in Japan we didn't eat in at all except breakfast).  The reason being, there are very very very few places to eat out.  Once you are out of Stornoway, there doesn't seem to be much at all.  I'm not sure if it is because as I said they don't cater much for tourism, or because with them being strict Presbyterians, they don't see the need to eat out, or maybe they don't have much disposable income (we could buy a small hotel here for the price of our Ingleton home).  We were therefore quite excited at the prospect of a lunch out.  It was good enough, but not amazing, I guess the place isn't known for its food.

Stornoway harbour
After lunch we headed to the castle - this has been newly restored and opened in July this year.  It is very much work in progress as for a moment we were convinced it was closed and almost didn't find the way in.  There were a lot of workman around and a lot of construction activity, but once we had found the front door, we went into the museum and were pleasantly surprised with what was inside.  The first room was a 360 degree time-lapse cinema of the scenery of the islands which was gorgeous. The second room was a history of the islands and the islanders.  Tom found a good game for children on a computer and spent ages on it, meaning Matt and I got to have a good look around.  We saw some of the Lewis Chessman  as well which were very very intricate - hard to believe they are so so old (from the Viking era - around 800 years old).  Gaelic is widely spoken here, did you know that some communities in Canada still speak it and that Germans come to Lewis to learn it - a number are now fluent! I'm not all that surprised, there are LOADS of Germans here.

Time for a dip
After finishing at the museum we went for a walk in the extensive grounds and then headed to the Co-op.  Matt stopped in at one of the butchers and got himself a Stornoway black pudding (one was in the fridge when we got here and he (and Tom) love it).  He came away with 1 black pudding, 1 fruity pudding (like a white pudding but with fruit in) and 4 thick slices of haggis (free of charge). Apparently the butcher was lovely (and a broad Londoner).

We headed home with puddings and beer, put them in the fridge and then headed up the road from our cottage to the end of the road at North Tolsta, where we found another lovely beach.  It was 4.30pm by now, but we stopped a while so Tom could have another play, the water here was much colder - big difference from the other beach which was on the west side of the island.

We then headed home, and I made a Japanese curry for tea.  A much quieter day, but enjoyable none-the-less.

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

Day 3: The Best Beach in the World?

Low tide
Wow - what a day (again)!  We woke up to deep blue skies with no clouds.  The sun was shining and it was hot, hot, hot.  Definitely a day for the beach.

Matt had done some investigation and decided that the best, most scenic beach to visit would be Luskentyre.  This is just south of Tarbert in Harris, a fair drive, but as the roads are empty and well maintained and take you through wonderful scenery, it really isn't a hardship.  We were quite late getting up, by the time we had had breakfast (outside) and made a picnic, put the washing out to dry etc, it was getting on for 11am.

Luskentyre Beach
First stop was Tarbert for a quick visit to the island's only distillery (they aren't making whisky yet, just gin) and a Harris Tweed shop (I bought a rather natty blue tartan flat cap type thing so I can join in with the flat cap brigade during winter).  We finally got to the beach around midday.  We drove up a pass and were treated to the most amazing view of a bay full of yellow sand, with turquoise blue sea lapping around its sides.  Wow!  This was a beach to rival some of the Australian beaches I visited.

We headed down and went to the official car park, but there was no room, so we headed back along the coast road and parked in a wide bit right next to a cemetery.  Next job was to find a way down to the beach - there was no obvious route, but there were plenty of cars there so others had done the same.  In the end we walked through the cemetery (felt very wrong) and legged over a fence onto the beach.  We did find a gate into the beach, but it was locked, so the only possible way in was via the cemetery.
Keeping an eye

We were greeted with dunes of fine, pale yellow sand which gave way to a vast expanse of flat beach.  Unfortunately it was windy, mega windy, which meant we had to find some shelter.  We got ourselves to some rocks, dumped our stuff and got straight to work making a sandcastle.  The sand was perfect building sand.  The architect was Master Tom Young and his workman was Nik Young.  He was very good at telling me what to do and somehow managed to do very little himself - hmmmmmmm!  We ate our picnic standing up with our backs to the wind to try to make sure we didn't eat too much sand.

Next on the agenda was velcro tennis.  Tom and Matt played whilst I went on a long walk down to the sea.  It was a good half mile or so to the sea, but it was worth the walk, it was so so so beautiful.  Mountains were all around, the sky deep blue it was paradise on earth, even the wind didn't detract from its beauty.  As I was walking back a small boy ran up to me, he wanted to see the sea too, so we walked back and he spent a happy time darting in and out of the water.

We walked back to see Matt and we decided to pack up and try to go to the other beach again as we were of the opinion the wind would be slightly better there.  We did so and managed to find a place in the car park - hurray!  We took the absolute minimum to the beach with us so we could all play in the water.  Wow, did we play in the water?  Tom got properly in, whilst Matt and I got up to our knees.

Considering how far north we are, the water was quite warm.  We all had a lot of fun in the sea, Tom especially - he was dancing in and out of the waves for the best part of an hour.  Here there were proper waves to play in - a shame we didn't have a body board with us (there were no facilities, no shop, no ice-cream van, no nothing!) as I think he would have happily played on one for hours.  Anyway he was happy enough and made me and Matt go further and further in, so we got pretty wet too.  It was only when he was shivering uncontrollably that Tom finally came out.
Happy Nik

Tom then demanded that I go back to the car to get the velcro tennis set - so I did as I was bidden.  We then played velcro tennis and then beach tennis for another hour or so.  It was only when we realised it was past 5pm and our stomachs were rumbling that we called it a day.  Tom to his credit was very good at leaving as you could tell he didn't want to leave.

Loving the water
We headed to Tarbert and ended up going to the chippy for a fish supper which we ate on a bench looking out on the bay and mountains.  Then back to our home in the sunshine.

It was a perfect beach day.  Scotland really is a tropical paradise!