Sailing to Stornoway

Leaving Ullapool behind us, we began the 2.5 hour sailing over to the Western Isles, AKA the Outer Hebrides, to the Isle of Lewis & Harris, home to the largest town, Stornoway…

We were sat aboard the MV Loch Seaforth, which had just departed from the small port of Ullapool. It set out into Loch Broom, from where it would join the Minch, the strait of water between the mainland and Lewis & Harris.

It was still early morning, the sun was shining high in the sky and some of the most spectacular views of our holiday in the Highlands would soon be revealing themselves.

We did have one extra passenger on our trip, a new friend we picked up the day before in Fort William. Looks like we know where the Loch Ness Monster goes on holiday!

A few miles North up Loch Broom, we passed “Rhue Lighthouse”, located where the Loch begins to give way to the Minch.

The Lighthouse was built in 1902, and stands around eleven metres high. The original lens from the Tower can now be found in the Ferry Terminal back in Ullapool, after it was replaced by a new solar powered light in 2002.

The Ferry itself was fantastic. There was lots of space, and a nice choice of places to sit, inside and out. There was free and easy access to the outside decks at all times during the voyage, which quickly became our favourite place to enjoy the journey…

Heading out into the Minch, we got just the most spectacular view back at the mainland. The peaks and troughs of the Scottish Highlands were laid out before us, and in the distance we could also possibly discern the outline of the Isle of Skye.

We had the perfect weather to make this trip, as in wet or hazy conditions the mountains would have been completely obscured.

You can stand at either end of the outside deck, and as we advanced through the crossing, we swapped to the Northward facing section of the ship. Eventually, the outline of the Western Isles themselves loomed over the horizon.

The Isles are made up of a number of islands, fifteen of which have permanent populations. The largest is Lewis & Harris, also home to the islands capital, Stornoway. The island is also the third largest of the British Isles, after Great Britain, and Ireland.

As we neared our final destination, we sailed passed the “Arnish Point Lighthouse”, designed by Alan Stevenson (1807 – 1865, Lighthouse Engineer from Edinburgh) in 1852.

Built for the Northern Lighthouse Board, which covers Scotland and the Isle of Man, it was the Boards first ever pre-fabricated Lighthouse, thanks to its new design of iron with a timber lining.

It guards the entrance to the Harbour around Stornoway, which has various rocks, beaches and outcrops which need to be navigated by incoming ships.

We soon arrived in Stornoway itself, a stunning little town which we couldn’t wait to explore…

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Rendezvous with a Ferry in Ullapool

The next morning we made our way to Ullapool, to pick up the ferry out to Stornoway…

Ullapool:

Status: Highland Unitary Authority,  Town, Scotland

Date: 15/03/2016

Travel: Car, Ferry (Ullapool – Stornoway)

Eating & Sleeping: N/A

Attractions: Sir John Fowler Memorial Clock Tower, Loch Broom, Loch Droma, Harbour, Ferry Terminal, Caledonian Hotel etc

The route to Ullapool along the A835 provides plenty of opportunities for you stop and admire the scenery. If you haven’t been this way before and you have a ferry to catch, I would recommend that you leave a little earlier to allow for the scenery!

Our first stop was on the shores of Loch Droma, a small Loch with a commanding view out across the surrounding mountains.

We had had an early start, so the morning mist was still hanging low across the surface.

The Loch is drained by the River Droma at the Western End…

… which then empties out into Loch Broom, about ten miles away. This vast body of water stretches all the way to Ullapool itself, with a total length of around ten miles.

We kept following the Loch, stopping occasionally to admire the ever present mountains on the horizon.

Eventually, the town of Ullapool loomed in the distance, a charming little place in an idyllic setting.

We had a bit of time before our ferry left, so we parked up in the large free carpark in the town centre, and set out to explore.

On Argyll Street, we came across the “Sir John Fowler Memorial Clock”, erected in 1922. It pays tribute to Sir John Fowler, 1st Baronet (1817 – 1898, English Civil Engineer from Sheffield). He was a prominent designer, responsible for the Metropolitan Railway in London which was a precursor to the London Underground, as well as the Forth Railway Bridge.

The Clock also remembers Sir John’s son, Captain Sir John Edward Fowler, killed in action during World War I in 1915.

The Clock sits adjacent to the “Caledonian Hotel”, shown left. It has the distinction of being the oldest hotel in Ullapool. Large settlements are few and far between on this side of the Highlands, making Ullapool the perfect base to explore the surrounding area.

The waters of Loch Broom lap against the shore here, and much of the design work for the harbour was the work of Thomas Telford in 1788. Ullapool has historically been a fishing town, originally starting with Herring.

Various mountains can be seen from Ullapool, and on a sunny day you can see for miles in each direction. The Highlands are a magical place, and so far we weren’t disappointed.

Starting in the 1970’s, the Harbour became home to a regular fleet of “Klondykers”, Mackerel Processing Ships from countries in the Eastern Bloc such as Russia, East Germany and Poland. It was a major boom of the economy, which sadly disappeared in the 1990’s with the collapse of the USSR.

The main Harbour was extended by 33 metres in 2014 to accommodate a brand new Ferry to run the service to Stornoway, the MV Loch Seaforth.

There are daily sailings out to Stornoway from the Ferry Terminal, which can take both foot passengers, and vehicles. Journey times average around 2 hours 30 minutes.

Inside the Ferry Terminal is the “Rhue Light”, the original Lense from the Rhue Lighthouse. The Light was established in 1952, and stands at the edge of Loch Broom where it becomes the Minch, the area of sea between the mainland and Lewis & Harris where Stornoway is located.

The light was always unmanned, and a clock in the building turned the light on and off at the appropriate time. A new light was installed in 2002, and works off Solar Power.

Half an hour later, the aforementioned MV Loch Seaforth arrived, and we boarded, ready for our journey out to Stornoway…

Inverness, Highland, Scotland

Our final destination of the day was the city of Inverness, our 7th and final city in Scotland…

Inverness:

Status: Highland Unitary Authority, City, Scotland

Date: 14/03/2016

Travel: Car

Eating & Sleeping: Travelodge (A96)

Attractions: Inverness Castle, River Ness, Inverness Cathedral, Town House, Falcon Square, Steeple Tower, Old Court House, Greig St Bridge, Ness Bridge, Free North Church, Old High Kirk, St Columba’s, Eastgate Shopping Centre, Eastgate Street, Victorian Market, Old Caledonian Bank etc

We parked up in the Multi-Storey Car Park in the Eastgate Shopping Centre, which opened in 1983, and was later extended in 2003. It is an important shopping destination for the Highlands, as is Inverness as a whole, serving the largest catchment area in Europe. The Highlands is a vast area, and there are only two sizeable settlements, Inverness and Fort William.

Out in Falcon Square in front of the Centre stands the Mercat Cross (Scots for Market Cross). The cities original cross was erected in 1685, whilst the one we saw before us was a brand new design by Gerald Laing in 2003. The National Animal of Scotland, the Unicorn, adorns the top of the 37 ft cross, along with four falcons encircling it. The Falcons are in memory of John Falconer who opened the Falcon Foundry in 1858, although most of it has long since been demolished.

A few blocks East along Academy Street from the Square is Inverness Railway Station, which opened in 1855, originally the Terminus of the Inverness & Nairn Railway,  roughly 17 miles long.

It eventually joined first the Highland Railway, and then the LMS (London, Midland and Scottish Railway) which ran most mainline services across the UK, after four large train companies merged.

Today the station runs services East to Aberdeen, South towards Glasgow, and North up to Thurso, for ferries to Orkney. A number of services also run up the ECML (East Coast Main Line) direct from London via Edinburgh up to the city.

Outside the station sits a Memorial to the Cameron Highlanders. 141 soldiers were killed whilst fighting in Egypt and Sudan during the 1880’s, so a permanent Memorial was erected in 1893.

We cut through to the River Ness from the Railway Station, and made our way to the steep slope atop which you will find Inverness Castle.

This beautiful looking building was the work of William Burn (1789 – 1870, Scottish Architect from Edinburgh) in 1836. It is the more modern incarnation of Inverness’s defenses, as there have been various Castles here since the 11th Century.

The most notable is a large, towered Castle from 1548, whose occupants famously denied entry to Mary Queen of Scots in 1562, causing the towns folk to take the Castle by force for her.

Not only does the Castle have a commanding presence along the River, it also offers the best view in the City.

In the distance, the prominent peaks of Ben Wyvis and Little Wyvis steal the skyline. They lie on the Northern side of the Beauly Firth, where the River Ness below us is gently heading.

The Ness is but 12 miles long, and connects Loch Ness with the Firth. The final stretch of the Caledonian Canal runs parallel for much of the route, again heading for Beauly.

Inverness has a number of well known Churches, whose spires are dotted around the skyline.

There is one religious building in particular though that stands out when your stood looking out from the Castle.

It is of course the Cathedral of St Andrew, on the far side of the River. It belongs to the Scottish Episcopal Church, and was founded in the 1860’s. A large Diocese covering the former counties of Moray, Ross and Caithness had just been created, and as the largest settlement in the area, Inverness was chosen to host the new Cathedral.

The twin towers at the Northern end of the building were originally intended to hold large spires, but sadly a lack of funds meant they were removed from the design.

Leaving the Castle Mound in all it’s glory, we took a walk down the River, to take in some city views.

A number of bridges cross the River Ness in the city centre, and we stopped at the “Greig St Bridge”, a Steel Suspension Bridge from 1881, although it looks far newer!

You get a fantastic view from here, with the Castle in the distance, and many of the cities Churches lining the riverside.

On the left is St Columba’s, built by Mackenzie & Matthews in 1852.

In the distance, crossing the river further upstream is the Concrete Ness Bridge from 1959, the latest in a long line of structures to cross the River in that spot.  Until 1685 a Wooden Bridge was used, before making way for a new Stone one, destroyed in a Flood in 1849.

Here on the bridge, we were also level with another two Churches, starting with the “Free North Church” on the right.

Another Victorian Era addition, it was created by Ross & Macbeth in 1892, for the Presbyterian community. This particular branch of Presbyterianism has over 100 congregations in Scotland alone, as it has aligned with the Church of Scotland.

To the left is the “Old High Kirk”, the oldest Church we have come across so far. The main tower dates back to an earlier Church from the 16th Century, whilst the rest of the building was rebuilt between 1769 – 1772. The Tower features an unusual octagonal spire, which also predates rebuilding.

Moving back to the City Centre, we stopped outside one of the cities hidden Gems.

Taking up a whole block, is the stunning Victorian Market, built to replace the outdoor Market Place in the late 1870’s. The original building was destroyed by a fire not long after, so the present Market is from 1891.

Inside are hundreds of shops, in a maze of canopied districts. If you head round to Academy Street, almost directly opposite the entrance to the train station, you will find the original sandstone entrance to the pre-fire building.

From here we cut through to “Eastgate”, the main thoroughfare in the city. It contains many of Inverness’s local landmarks, including the Inverness Steeple Tower, visible further down the street.

The Steeple is Georgian, completed in 1791. The spire contains three large bells, 150 ft above the streets below. To the left of the Steeple is the adjoining “Old Court House”, from 1794.

Two buildings over to the right from the Steeple is a large building with Corinthian Columns above the entrance. This was purpose built in 1847, again by Mackenzie & Mathews, as the new Head Office of the Caledonian Bank, founded in Inverness in 1838. It would eventually merge with the Bank of Scotland in 1907 after near bankruptcy.

Eastgate is full of ornate buildings, with another good example being “Numbers 21 – 23a High Street”, the large building with turrets at either end of the roof.

Designed by Matthews & Lawrie, it was topped out in 1879 and is currently split up into a number of tenants, although the majority is currently used by the Highland Hostel.

On the far side of the street is one of the buildings I was most looking forwards to seeing… only to find it obscured by scaffolding!

Inverness Town House is one of the cities most stunning constructions, another lasting Victorian legacy, from 1882. It would first house the Town Council for what was then the Royal Burgh of Inverness, and now local offices for Highland Council.

The Town House, and Inverness itself also has a peculiar distinction with regards to government functions. The British Cabinet regularly meets at 10 Downing Street in London, however this changed for one day in 1921. Many of the Cabinet Ministers happened to be in Northern Scotland, when the Prime Minister, David Lloyd George had to call an emergency meeting in response to the worsening situation in Ireland. It was held at the Town House, the first time it had ever been held outside of London. The meeting resulted in the Anglo-Irish Treaty, allowing Southern Ireland to secede from the UK, whilst allowing the North to remain if requested.

Inverness is a magnificent city, and I am sure we only saw but of a fraction of the historic buildings on offer here. Against the stunning backdrop of the Highlands, it is a special place indeed.

It benefits from good transport links, as I said earlier, such as rail links to Thurso, Aberdeen and Glasgow. The A9, the main North/South route from the Central Belt to the Highlands bypasses the city to the North, whilst you can also take the A82 West to Fort William/Loch Ness, or the A96 East to Elgin and Aberdeen.

Inverness is also a good base for day trips out into the Highlands, and the cities Airport provides links to Shetland and Orkney.

The next morning, we left our hotel on the outskirts of Inverness, and headed North West along the A835 towards Ullapool, for our ferry to Stornoway…

Great Glen Road to Inverness

Leaving Fort William, we still had 65 miles to go to reach our base for the night, Inverness. Our next stop was the famous Commando Memorial, 10 miles away in Spean Bridge…

This incredible 17 ft tall monument was created by Scott Sutherland in 1951, and features three Soldiers, looking out across what was once the Commando Training Depot.

During World War II, under orders from Winston Churchill himself, a large task-force of Commando’s were trained here in readiness for the Invasion of Europe. Over 1,500 Commando’s were killed in the eventual battles, and the Monument pays tribute to their sacrifice.

The Soldiers have a unique setting, as they not only gaze out across their old training grounds, but also Scotland/Britain’s highest peak, the edifice that is Ben Nevis, shown centre.

With a total height of 4,411 ft, it marks the highest point in the United Kingdom, atop what was once an active volcano. The first ascent on record was by James Robertson (Botanist from Edinburgh) in 1771. Ben Nevis is easily accessible from Fort William, which became a popular starting point after the arrival of the West Highland Line in 1894.

Our next stop was Loch Lochy, one of the Lochs which makes up the Great Glen Fault.

There is a small pull in next to the Loch, which was almost perfectly still, reflecting the bright blue sky above it. Sometimes you forgot your still in Britain, it feels like you could be in the Canadian Mountains, or the American Rockies.

Loch Lochy is Scotland’s third deepest Loch, although it doesn’t look it from this vantage point. It is joined by the Caledonian Canal to both Loch Eil to the South, and Loch Oich to the North.

If you follow the Caledonian Canal North, you will first pass through Loch Oich, and then through another section of the Canal to the famous lock gates at Fort Augustus. As the next section is Loch Ness, the famous figure of Nessie can be found next to the Canal, in tribute to the legendary monster who supposedly resides in the Loch.

Fort Augustus is one of three major forts which form a rough line across the Highlands, from Fort George near Inverness, down to Fort William. This eventually gave the town its name, after the garrison created by General Wade in the 17th Century.

The area has seen many battles, particularly during the Jacobite Rebellions in the 18th century.

Construction on the Caledonian Canal began in 1803, with working being carried out at both ends, to eventually meet somewhere in the middle. A total of 60 miles was built, utilising the Lochs in between, connected by specially dug Canals.

It reached Fort Augustus in 1816, with the set of five locks complete by 1820, under the supervision of Simpson & Cargill.

Looking past Nessie, the entrance to Loch Ness is just visible, and the next leg of our journey along the A82 would let us get much closer!

Around two thirds of the way along Loch Ness, are the picturesque ruins of Urquhart Castle. The Great Glen has long been a strategic line through the Highlands, hence the three Forts I mentioned earlier.

Urquhart Castle is located on an outcrop into Loch Ness, with good visibility across the Loch. Although it is highly likely it predates this, the earliest record of the Castle is from 1296, after Edward I and the English Army invaded Scotland, and captured the Castle.

It kept changing hands between English and Scots for the next couple of centuries, before passing into the hands of the Earl of Huntly. Various raids were carried out in the area by local Clans, and in 1527 one such raid left the Castle partially ruined, although it was later repaired. The last major offensive the Castle saw was in 1690, after a 500 strong army of Jacobites attempted to invade. It was defended by soldiers loyal to William of Orange, and the soldiers largely held out until the overall Jacobite rebellion had been put down. They then blew up the Castle to stop the Jacobites taking control. The Castle has slowly decayed ever since, being protected by the Seafield Family from 1884, and it is now owned by Historic Scotland. The public can visit for a fee.

On the left you can see the “Grant Tower”, the most secure sections of the Castle, and one of the most extant. At five storeys it would have been a fantastic look out point and a good place to hole up in if the rest of the Castle was taken.

Loch Ness is quite a site to behold. At 23 miles long, it is the second largest Loch in Scotland, after only Loch Lomond, although by volume it is the largest overall. It stretches as far as the eye can see, bounded on all sides by Mountains and Hills.

It is perhaps most famous for the Loch Ness Monster, of which there have been numerous sightings over the last few centuries. It wasn’t until George Spicer’s account in 1933 that the idea really began to take off, and there have been many attempts to prove its existence ever since, including faked footage. A famous photograph called the “Surgeon’s Photograph” after Robert Wilson, a Gynaecologist from London, was published in 1934, reputing to show the Monster. It has since been denounced as fake, yet the interest remains.

There are plenty of stopping points along the Loch by the main road, although so far no sightings!

We would soon arrive in Inverness, the last stop of the day…

Fort William, Highland, Scotland

After a stunning drive up through the beginnings of the Scottish Highlands, we arrived at the Great Glen, as we pulled into Fort William…

Fort William:

Status: Highland Unitary Authority, Town, Scotland

Date: 14/03/2017

Travel: Car

Eating & Sleeping: N/A

Attractions: Loch Eil, Duncansburgh Parish Church, Donald Cameron Statue, War Memorial, High Street, West Highland Museum, St Andrew’s Church, Gordon Square, West Highland Way, Gordon Square Statue, Caledonian Canal etc

Fort William is a sizeable stop in the Highlands, as it is the second largest settlement in the whole Council Area, after only Inverness. It is a big centre for Tourism, particularly for exploring the surrounding Highlands, and is also located on the West Highland Line, with trains coming from Glasgow in the South, and running North over the famous Glenfinnan Viaduct to Mallaig, for ferries to the Isle of Skye.

The town centre itself is quite historic, and there a number of interesting buildings and monuments to discover. We started at “The Parade”, a large green open space in the centre of town.

In the background stands Duncansburgh Parish Church, completed to designs by David MacKintosh (1848 – 1891, Architect from Oban) in 1881.

There are two major monuments located here, starting with the statue of Donald Cameron, 24th Lochiel (1835 – 1905, Scottish Conservative, MP for Inverness-Shire). Sculpted by W. Birnie Rhind, the Statue was unveiled in 1909, with Donald in his traditional Scottish Attire.

Stood parallel with Donald is the towns War Memorial, originally erected after World War I in memory of the troops from the town and wider area killed in battle.

At the bottom of the Memorial 1939 – 1945 was added a few decades later, to mark the second deadly World War.

The Soldier atop the Monument is presumably from the Queen’s Old Cameron Highlanders, many members of whom are listed on the Memorial, from both World Wars.

Striking quite a pose on the towns skyline, but not part of the Parade itself, being further along on Bank Street, is the Episcopal Church of St Andrew’s.

Built concurrently with Duncansburgh Parish Church, it opened a year earlier, in 1880. The Architect was Alexander Ross (1834 – 1925), this time hailing from the East in Inverness. It is by far the tallest building in Fort William, visible from all over town.

Like many towns in Scotland, Fort William is quite picturesque to explore, with some fine architecture lining the High Street, typical of Scottish buildings from the 18th and 19th Centuries.

It’s also the perfect place to stock up on supplies, be you camping, hiking or just enjoying the area.

For visitors to the town interested in it’s history, you can take a tour of the West Highland Museum, which is located on the Southern side of Gordon Square in the middle of the High Street (out of shot to the right).

The square also marks the end of the “West Highland Way”, a 96 mile footpath from Milngavie, just outside the City of Glasgow, up through the Highlands to Fort William. It is a well known trail, with some incredible scenery. It is estimated the path is used by around 80,000 walkers every year and broken into stages the whole route is doable.

The featured statue represents a tired walker, resting his weary feet after reaching the finish line in Fort William. The original finish line was considered to be quite lacklustre, so Gordon Square was revamped to create a new one, and on the pavement in front of the statue is a Caithness Stone map of the walking route.

Fort William lies on the shores of Loch Eil, a vast Lake which flows into Loch Linnhe South of the town itself.

This makes it jointly the last major body of water to the West on the Great Glen Fault, preceded by Loch Lochy, Loch Oich and Loch Ness to the far end at Inverness.

Ferries are available daily from Fort William to Camusnagaul on the far shore, whilst boats can also navigate through Loch Eil into the Caledonian Canal, and along the entire length of the Great Glen Fault Lakes.

Fort William is a lovely little town, with one of the most impressive backdrops in the UK. Vast mountains, beautiful crystal blue Lakes, and some familiar Scottish Architecture all compliment each other nicely.

The town is, however, slightly overshadowed by one of it’s neighbours, as we would find out as we continued our road trip up the A82 towards Loch Ness, and finally Inverness…

The Highland Route to Fort William

Our next big trip was a week in the Scottish Highlands. We stopped at various places, saw some incredible scenery, and even got a ferry out to the Western Isles. Our first major stop was the town of Fort William, however to get there, we first had a long, four hour drive, which was full of surprises…

Firstly, I must admit to a slight navigation error as we neared Glasgow. I basically ended up taking the long way round to the Eastern section of the M8 and following the motorway through Glasgow City itself, before getting back on course, instead of joining the M8 West of the city.

As we started to circle round the City Centre, we passed a large, ornate building called “Dundas Court”, shown above featuring a small Clock Tower. It was originally designed by David and James Hamilton, and opened in 1837 as a School.

A large concrete bridge carries the M8 across the River Clyde through the heart of Glasgow City Centre, and is a well known landmark in the city. Although we couldn’t quite make out any particular places of interest as we went (we have visited before anyhow) you got the sense of scale that comes with such a large city.

Leaving Glasgow behind us, we followed the M8 for roughly 15 miles until it became the M898, which brings you out at the approach to the Erskine Bridge.

This is the direct route up to Loch Lomond, crossing the River Clyde. There are two main routes to the Highlands, either the main A9 route East straight up to Inverness, or the A82, again to Inverness, but West via Fort William and Loch Ness.

The Bridge dates back to 1971, after Dr William Brown’s (1928 – 2005) designs were completed, five years after construction started. Prior to building work, the only way to cross the river here was via the Erskine Ferry, founded in 1777.

The Bridge is now the most direct way towards the A82, as the next crossing upstream is back in Glasgow itself.

The A82 runs pretty much from the Erskine Bridge all the way to Inverness, and affords some incredible views en-route. For around a third of it’s route, it runs alongside Loch Lomond, the largest stretch of water in Britain. It is contained within the Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park, a vast area spanning four counties.

By the time we spotted the Lake itself, we were also looking straight across at the “Arrochar Alps”, a large range of mountains which also includes a number of the Munro’s. These are mountains whose peaks are higher than 3,000 feet, named after Sir Hugh Munro (1856 – 1919, Scottish Mountaineer) who first created a comprehensive list of the mountains in the Highlands, in 1891.

We pulled up at a place called “Inveruglas”, a popular stop by the lake which features a cafe and a viewing platform. You can also board ferries around the Lake from Inveruglas Pier.

The Arrochar Alps are again visible on the left, whilst on the right you can see Sloy Power Station. It links up to Loch Sloy, up near the top of Ben Vorlich Mountain, to produce Hydro-Electric Power.

From here the route comes out almost above many of the ridges, skirting the edges of numerous gorges. It is a popular tourist route, hence the Coach we had been shadowing for the last few hours!

We were nearly at a small hamlet called “Bridge of Orchy”, which lies in the shadow of a number of peaks, including “Beinn Dorain”, shown over to the right, whose peak is 3,530 ft high.

The scenery continued to impress as we neared the border with “Highland”, the large Council Area which covers the majority of the Scottish Highlands, from Fort William, to Inverness, to John O’Groats.

Alongside us appeared the “West Highland Line”, which runs for over 150 miles from Glasgow in the South, up past Bridge of Orchy, towards Fort William and it’s Northern terminus at Mallaig, for ferries to the Isle of Sky. A branch line also heads off towards Oban, for the Isle of Mull, and the Western Isles.

The line is single track, hence the reason trains only run around every three hours, alternating in direction. Just to the South of our present position, roughly where we encountered Beinn Dorain Mountain, is a distinctive section of track known as the “Horse Shoe”, a large, tight curve in the shape of a Horse Shoe.

Leaving Loch Lomond/Bridge of Orchy behind us, we kept following the A82, until we reached our next scenic stop, in a small car park overlooking Loch Tulla.

We were visiting in March, and there was a nice dusting of snow across the peaks in the distance. To us, this was one of the most incredible views we had seen in a long time, but believe or not, the best was still yet to come!

A bit further North up the road was “Lochan na h-Achlaise”. It is the sister Lake to Loch Ba, just behind us on the far side of the road.

The road kept on twisting and turning through the mountains, until we reached the famous Glen Coe, a large Glen which was once an ancient super volcano.

The Glen is also home to the Glen Coe Ski Centre, which draws tourists from all over the world every year. Glen Coe is widely thought of as one of the most beautiful views in Scotland, and we would have to agree!

As you are leaving the Glen, you will go past the “Meeting of the Three Waters”, a small Waterfall which consists of three different streams/rivers which meet here.

The rest of the area around it is known as the “Three Sisters of Glen Coe”, a collection of three distinctive ridges.

Our next stop was Fort William, the gateway to the Highlands…

Darlington, County Durham, England

Our next stop was up North across the border into County Durham, as we arrived in the railway town of Darlington…

Darlington:

Status: Darlington Unitary Authority, County Durham, Town, England

Date: 01/10/2015

Travel: Car

Eating & Sleeping: N/A

Attractions: Darlington Market Hall, Clock Tower, St Cuthbert’s Church, Darlington Railway Station, River Skerne, Joseph Pease Statue, King’s Head Hotel etc

I have been wanting to visit Darlington for some time, ever since I first saw a picture of the towns historic Victorian Covered Market, with its famous Clock Tower.

Luckily, as we arrived the first place I found to park was in the Market Square itself, right at the base of the Market Hall. I wasn’t disappointed, and even the pictures don’t do this magnificent building justice.

The Market dates from 1864, paid for by Joseph Pease (1799 – 1872, MP for South Durham in the 1830’s). He also provided funds for the Towns first Town Hall, although it was replaced in the 1970’s with a new brutalist building off the other end of the Market Square.

When we visited, there was a line of Red Taxi’s outside, along with the typical Red Phone Boxes, which together gave the whole scene a very British feel.

The Market’s Clock Tower is perhaps the finest outside of London, and stands a magnificent 138 ft tall, visible from most areas of the Town Centre.

The bells which hang in the tower were created by T. Cooke & Sons from York, who also produced those which hang inside Big Ben in London, effectively making them the sister bells of Darlington’s.

Darlington is a very photogenic town, and we took a walk up the main shopping street, called “High Row”, which also runs past the large Cornmill Shopping Centre, shown on the left.

At the far end of High Row is a nice little group of historic buildings, along with a large statue of the aforementioned Joseph Pease, gazing back at his most outstanding contribution to the town, the Clock Tower in the distance.

Joseph created a slight controversy upon his election as MP for South Durham in 1832. As he was a Quaker, he refused to take the Oath and swear by God allegiance to the Queen as all MP’s must.

It was later decided to make a special exception for him, whereby because of his status he could take a “Solemn Affirmation” instead of the Oath, which removes the requirement to swear in the name of God.

Joseph is literally larger than life, as the large Zinc/Copper statue created by George Anderson Lawson in 1875 is 1.5 x larger than life size.

On Mr Pease’s left, sits the splendid Victorian facade of the “King’s Head Hotel”, which is slightly unusual as the whole hotel is suspended above the shops at street level.

The Hotel was recently restored in all its glory, reopening in 2012 after a devastating fire that severely damaged it.

As I said earlier, the Clock Tower is visible from pretty much every vantage point. I took this photo from an alleyway lined with shops, connecting Skinnergate (which runs behind High Row) back to High Row itself.

The Tower cut an impressive figure above the various Georgian/Victorian shops, and giving this little street a very historic feel.

The Market Square is bounded by the Market Hall/Clock Tower to the West, and to the East by the Church of St Cuthbert’s.

Entry to the Churchyard is gained through a large set of early 19th century iron gates, inter-spliced between the grand Ashlar columns which support them.

Construction of St Cuthbert’s began in 1180, taking roughly 60 years. At the time it would have been slightly smaller in scale. The large Tower/Spire with the Transept Crossings was only added the following century, and the Nave was altered/extended in 1975. There have been no burials in the Churchyard since 1856, when it was closed after presumably becoming too full.

The Church was founded by Bishop Hugh de Puiset (1125 – 1195, Bishop of Durham), who also built a Bishop’s Palace nearby in 1164. Sadly this no longer exists, as it was demolished in the 1970’s to make way for the new Borough Council Offices.

Moving past the Church, down the side of the Town Hall towards the ring road which encircles the town centre, we reached the River Skerne, a short, 25 mile long waterway that eventually empties out into the River Tees just across the border into North Yorkshire

There are a small series of weirs on the section here in Darlington, and this whole stretch of river was quite recently restored, with the addition of new footpaths and foliage.

Darlington might be famous for its Market Place Clock Tower, but it isn’t the only Clock to grace the skyline. Following the ring road round Clockwise, we ended up at the start of “Victoria Road”, which leads up to the imposing entrance to Darlington Railway Station.

Darlington is quite well known for its railway history, as in 1825, the worlds first steam engine operated public railway opened between the Shildon Collieries, and Stockton-on-Tees/Darlington. Railways quickly spread across the area, including to the busy port at Middlesbrough further up the River Tees. By 1830, the mainline from Liverpool to Manchester had opened, becoming the worlds first intercity railway.

The original station at Darlington was called Bank Top, and by 1844 it was in use by two separate routes, the original from Shildon which was extended South to York, and a new Branch North to Newcastle. The two ended up crossing using a flat crossing, which was a potential bottleneck on the system.

This resulted in the station we see today, which was built to incorporate all of the railway routes together, including new ones which eventually branched off towards Penrith and Barnard Castle. Designed by William Bell, it opened in 1887 and has ever since been an important stop on the East Coast Main Line between London and Edinburgh. All trains following this route stop at Darlington, giving it good links both North and South. A number of Cross County trains also stop here, which continue down to Birmingham and then Devon/Cornwall.

We finished our walk back in the Market Square, once more gazing up at the Market Hall in front of us. The whole town centre is just a nice pleasant place to be, with a town which prospered with the arrival of the railways, to become the largest settlement in the North East after only Newcastle, Sunderland and Middlesbrough.

This is reflected in the fact that Darlington became a Unitary Authority area separate from Durham County Council in 1997. Darlington accounts for around a fifth of the total population of County Durham as a whole.

Darlington is also well placed on the road network, as the A1/A1 (M) runs directly past the town bound for Newcastle in the North, and York/London in the South. Also nearby is the famous Scotch Corner junction with the A66 which heads West towards the M6, Cumbria and Carlisle.

Darlington is a lovely little town, and now sits proudly on our travel map, another well spent day exploring!