2013 UK Part 4

Monday 26 August

We packed an overnight bag and went for a short trip to Ballater and Glen Muick, home of some of Stu’s distant ancestors in the grounds of Balmoral Estate. I wonder if the police guarding the Estate gates in the middle of nowhere had drawn the long straws or the short ones. Since the weather was so good we drove out to Glen Muick as soon as we got there, lest we be plagued by bad weather later.

We’d been told there was nothing at Glen Muick, and we were expecting, um, nothing. So we were surprised at the number of cyclists we passed on our way out there. We were even more surprised, and perhaps a little disappointed, to find the ubiquitous Pay and Display carpark which was almost full. OK, so there’s no actual town or settlement, but there’s some ruins and some lovely looking walks. We spent a little, but not enough, time enjoying the area – along with about a hundred other people who seemed to be enjoying “nothing” as well. Hopefully everyone was sticking to the paths during deer stalking season. A spot to go back to.

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Back in Ballater the Visitor Centre came through with a lovely B&B on the edge of town. After checking in we went to the Royal Lochnagar distillery where Stu did the tour and tasting. I sat outside away from the fumes. Not to my taste at all.

When we’d driven through town I’d spotted a bookshop that looked like it might have some local information. Little did I know. In a shop crammed with new and 2nd hand books, the owner was able to put his hand on several that were of interest – local history and even one specific to the people of Glen Muick. We spent far too much time and money there and added quite a bit of weight to our luggage.

We visited what we assume – based on a Moir grave stone – was the Glen Muick cemetary then Stu dropped me off at the B&B and headed off for a spot of illegal fishing. But he went the wrong way and ended up just having a nice drive instead.]

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Our landlady had told us about a path along the river that would get us to town in about 10 minutes. Time must be different in Scotland. It was more like half an hour. Lovely, though. The walk home after dinner was via the road and much quicker.

Tuesday 27 August

Stu’s birthday. We set of back to Edinburgh via Monarch of the Glen country. At Aviemore we decided against the funicular railway because of the weather, so drove on to Kingussie and Newtonmore, where I pointed out the Highland Folk Museum which Stu decided he’d like to see.

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Excellent value – entry is free. Mum and I had visited this large, open air museum in 2007. There seemed to be a bit more at the 17th Century village but not much else had changed. This is a nice open air museum but seems to be struggling for funding to increase and improve its displays, which is a shame. For me, the 17th Century village is the best part. The recreated buildings and the volunteers demonstrating crafts and providing informed commentary about the buildings and the lifestyle. If they can develop it to the point where other parts of the complex offer the same, it will be much improved.

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A short PS to this visit was our only red squirrel of the trip. Mum and I saw one last time too. This remains the only place I’ve ever seen them.

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We were now well behind schedule and there was no way we were going to make the last boat at the Falkirk Wheel, so we just enjoyed the drive and the scenery for the rest of the trip.

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Wednesday 28 August

Leaving Edinburgh today we went to the Falkirk Wheel where we just missed the first boat road so were once again behind schedule. The Wheel is a wonderful feat of engineering that connects the canals that were so important for transport in the past and opens them up for recreational use. And the only people who pay to use it are tourists like us. If you’re in your own boat, it’s free.

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The rest of the day was driving to York. Being behind scheduled meant we didn’t have time to really enjoy much of this lovely town before dinner with another Facebook friend and his son, daughter-in-law and grandson. This was a great dinner with great company at the Churchill Hotel. We may have enjoyed ourselves a little too much – we were the last to be kicked out.

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Thursday 29 August

Today’s main mission was to visit Bletchley Park. No wonder they give you a ticket that’s good for a year – it’s way bigger than I expected. We started with the 1 hour guided tour. There were only 4 in our group so it was easier to absorb the information. It explained a lot of the information that is presented elsewhere and so probably saved us a lot of reading.

The Bombe is the complex machine used to decrypt Enigma  coded messages. The explanation of how it works makes sense, but I can’t imagine the workings of the minds that were able to come up with this solution. I had noticed a few Shakespeare quotes around the machine and asked about these. Apparently I was the first person that day to ask if they were significant. If I hadn’t, we wouldn’t have heard the story about the opening of the exhibit and how the dignitary present stepped too close and was in danger of being electrocuted. An employee committed the breach of protocol of grabbing this person by the arm to move them away. The quotes give a clue as to who the dignitary was. One was, if I remember correctly, “Was it for me to kill the heir apparent?”. I’m sure you can figure it out from there.

Apart from the decryption stories, I also enjoyed the display detailing stories of double and triple agents who fooled the Germans so well that some of them even received German war medals.

Also in the grounds is the National Museum of Computing and the aptly named Colossus. We laughed at the the displays of old computers and storage of all sorts – and some of the more recent ones – even 8″ discs which no one else seems to remember except me.

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We weren’t laughing later on that night. We drove to Cambridge, looking for somewhere to stay along the way but without luck, despite the best efforts of the man at a pub we stopped at. Later than I would have liked we ended up with the last room at a Premier Inn at about twice the price I would have liked to pay. There was nothing wrong with the room, just the price and the fact that it was an hotel. On the plus side, they had plenty of bins in the car park for us to offload our rubbish as we cleaned out the car ready to return it.

Friday 30 August

We dropped the car off early and decided to head straight to London – missing any delights that Cambridge had to offer. It was really just a convenient place to get rid of the car.

A 1 hour train trip and a taxi ride got us to our accommodation in Drury Lane. Again we chose LSE student accommodation, this time a studio apartment which was a good size with a small kitchen area and a decent sized bathroom.

First port of call was Australia House to vote, even though it’s not compulsory if you’re overseas. I was surprised how many people were there. I guess there’s a lot of Aussies in London with a social conscience. Then lunch and a Tube station to load our Oyster Cards – it was my card’s 4th trip to London, but only my 3rd. I have an irrational emotional attachment to these cards which give me access to the best transport system I’ve ever had anything to do with.

A walk around the area, a trip to the supermarket and home for dinner.

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