Until the goverment get their way and tax them out of existence, the budget airlines are offering some ridiculously cheap weekend away opportunities right now. So I decided to take them up on their offer for a long weekend in Scotland. Once again the users of this site came through with help and tips so thanks for that guys!
The weekend didn't start well after a problem at the airport meant an eight hour delay :s Once I finally managed to convince airport security that the reason I was trying to get out of the secure area wasn't because I was a terrorist I decided to head down the south coast to kill some time and ended up in the Poole and Bournemouth area.
It's been years since I've been down there and, despite the pouring rain and howling wind, it was quite pleasant to have a stroll along the coast for an hour or so. But I was getting annoyed at not being several hundred miles away so headed back to the airport via the newly designated New Forest National Park.
Finally got into Glasgow just in time to pick up the rental car before their desk closed. I was distraught to find they only had a Fiat Panda left but, as it turned out, it was actually a really good little car! Okay, it doesn't do much for your street cred (!), but it was nippy as hell around town, screamed like a banshee when you redlined it and handled really well. Okay I'll stop with the Jeremy Clarkson impressions already... :)
As I could have predicted weeks in advance it was cold, dark and wet (and now a whole lot later than it should of been thanks to the airline) so I decided to head to the hotel for a wash and brush up and some food before heading out for a quick look around. Having left the airport and headed down the motorway I was greeted with the helpful news that Erksine Bridge was closed due to the high winds that, only an hour previously, I was convinced was going to kill us all as the plane landed at 45 degrees to the runway!
This inconvenience actually turned out to be a good thing as it meant I was forced to turn around and drive through Glasgow itself which I'd not been planning to do as, and no offence to the good people of Glasgow, it doesn't have the best reputation. That quick drive totally changed my opinion and I definately hope to visit again for a proper explore! The other thing that struck me about the city was how they all drive like maniacs there... I loved it, I fitted right in :)
After leaving the city, and making a quick stop at a supermarket for some supplies, I ambled into the hotel to be greeted by a genuinely pleasant and helpful receptionist who was interested to hear why I was visiting the area. After chatting for a few minutes she kindly offered me the room on the top floor at the end of the corridor so I would get a good nights sleep.
Splendid, I thought, until about 2am when my 'neighbours' arrived back and decided that 2am was a good time to re-enact Wrestlemania 18 in the corridor outside my door. When they finally finish that they then decided a post-event party was in order and proceeded to make more noise than the crowd at Charlotte after Dale Jr turned Jeff Gordon into the wall. For four hours. Delightful.
I was planning on popping next door to the Little Chef for breakfast... I know, it's nothing to admit in public, but they'd been showing their massive breakfasts on the TV news for the past few days after they went bust, and they looked like something I needed to sample before the doors closed! But the previous evenings revelry had kept me awake and I couldn't drag myself out of bed until 930 so had to give it a miss and head off for the day.
First stop was the Loch Lomond Shores development just on the outskirts of Balloch where the snappily titled Loch Lomond & Trossachs National Park Gateway Centre is located. Having previously wondered as to the differences between the UK and US national parks, I started to realise it pretty much comes down to the basics after taking the literature that I was given back to the car to digest. The NPS in the US produce some brilliant park guides and trail maps but, first impressions suggest, we don't come close in the UK.
So I decided to disregard the map and headed off across country to Helensburg to start a drive around the edge of Gare Loch, past the intimidating Faslane Naval Base - home of the British Nuclear submarine fleet. I stopped to take a couple of photos of the Peace Camp opposite the site and was invited in for a cup of tea by the residents!
The plan was to head onwards towards Tarbet before heading south along the edge of Loch Lomond but I decided to turn off left at Glenlochhead and do the loop route down the other side of Gare Loch so I could get a good view of Faslane before heading up the side of Loch Long. It was around here that I really started to settle into the peace and serenity of the area but something just seemed, I don't know, out of place about the whole thing.
Having passed the Coulport Store it started to dawn on me that it was the way that the natural beauty of an area could be so scarred by the military. I could kinda see where the protesters I had spoken to earlier were coming from. Having left this behind in my rear view mirror I sped along a wonderfully challenging road and headed north to be greeted, as I turned a corner, by this sight. Wrong. Just wrong!
A few more stops and a load of miles down the road I was back at Balloch and looking at the guides again. I'd seen a lot of water so I looked to the east and the hills of the Trossachs. A quick stop at a thoroughly unimpressive Balloch Castle was followed by a detour down a fantastic little road to the foot of Ben Lomond which was somewhat more of a success.
Deciding I best press on I headed towards the Dukes Pass (another fantastic drive - I was even beginning to feel sorry for the poor little rental car!) and onwards towards Stirling.
One thing that I had been looking forward to with this trip was to get out for a bit of a strenuous hike but, so far, I'd spent all day in the car due to a) the sheer amount of scenery to explore and b) the rain! But the weather finally started to clear up as I neared Stirling and, keen as I was to get a few snaps of the Forth Bridges in daylight, I couldn't resist yet another diversion to stop off at the Wallace Monument. A walk up the steep path from the parking lot to the monument itself provided me that opportunity to get the blood flowing. Excellent.
The view from the top was excellent too and, despite he batteries in my camera running out (can you believe it!), I thoroughly enjoyed stopping off there.
The light was fading and I was concious that I wanted to get a few snaps of the Forth Bridges before dark. I finally arrived there about an hour after dark :) but it was soon apparent that I had to find time to return tomorrow for some photos as it was simply spectacular at night... even if it didn't feel quite safe to be walking around after dark.
Finally, after a long day, as you will appreciate if you are still reading this... Edinburgh. And the second bargain-priced Travelodge in two days. This one though was right in the centre of the city and was a real bugger to find! Eventually I found the hotel and happily pulled into the parking lot and checked in to my (rather small, but perfectly formed!!) room.
Anyway, I should give you a rest from reading now, you must be tired! But if anyone is interested I will put some more up tomorrow.