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Entries about beaches

Hotel

sunny 14 °C
View Forres on IainT's travel map.

Knockomie

Knockomie

I have have been to a hotel. Can you imagine?

On Friday afternoon I decided enough was enough, and I had to get away from home. It was just for one night (Saturday) but then it was all very last minute.

The hotel is in Forres, which is 3 hours drive north. It is also where my father was from, so my memories of the place go back as far as I do. Grandmother. Uncle and aunt. Cousins. Summer holidays. Easter visits.

Findhorn Village

Findhorn Village

I have been driving past that hotel as long as it has been there (33 years), and never gone in. To be honest, I never saw it as my kind of place. Full of old people. Old people who think they are a bit posh because they can afford it.

I suppose I am one of them now, but without the posh bit. And the money obviously - a cheap last minute deal.

I enjoyed the drive to get there - the pure novelty of driving for 3 hours after weeks of living under restrictions.

I was perfectly happy with the hotel’s hygiene arrangements. My room was pleasant and quiet. I slept well. They provided an excellent dinner and breakfast.

Aside from the sheer liberation of the escape and staying somewhere which is away from home, I can pick out several highlights. First, an afternoon walk beside the River Findhorn. No sound except the roar of the water.

River Findhorn at Logie

River Findhorn at Logie

Next, an evening walk in Findhorn village. It had a real “end of summer” feel. The village was its usual mixture of busy but quiet, locals and visitors. I chose to go at that time hoping for a typical Findhorn sunset. I chose well.

Findhorn Sunset

Findhorn Sunset

Then my Couch to 5k session at 6am on Sunday. Session 17. I went to the town’s Grant Park, where my father played cricket as a youngster. His old school - Forres Academy - is across the street.

Grant Park, Forres

Grant Park, Forres

Finally, a Sunday morning 3 hour hike in Culbin Forest. For the first 2 hours of my hike I saw no-one. I had geese, butterflies and a seal for company.

Culbin Shore

Culbin Shore

The Forest is fascinating. It was planted to fix the sand dunes now beneath it, to stop them moving. Some are over 20m high. I loved being able to walk in solitude for 2 hours, surrounded by trees, with no noise apart from the geese, the sea occasionally, and my footsteps.

Culbin Forest

Culbin Forest

I wonder if the geese are resident or migrating.

Posted by IainT 23:13 Archived in Scotland Tagged sunsets_and_sunrises beaches skylines trees sky boats scotland life transport Comments (0)

Scottish Islands

all seasons in one day 13 °C

Lockdown Reading

Lockdown Reading

Earlier this month I was looking for books to buy and found Scottish Island Bagging. Click, click, click and it was on its way to me from the publisher (in Sheffield, oddly enough).

Apart from a summer job in an Arran hotel in 1972, for most of my life the Scottish islands were a blank spot on my travel map. I remember a couple of day trips to Stornoway for work, and an overnight business trip to Shetland when we worked for 16 hours out of 24.

I woke up to this a few years ago and started to put things right.

Vatersay/Bhatarsaigh

Vatersay/Bhatarsaigh

In the space of 5-6 years I have visited Gigha, Islay, Tiree, Colonsay, Mull, Iona, Staffa, Ulva, Lismore, Seil, Kerrera, Luing, Easdale, Eigg, Barra, Vatersay, Eriskay, Lewis and Harris.

I have been back to Arran a few times in that period, and to Orkney (which I first visited about 10 years ago).

St Magnus Cathedral, Kirkwall, Orkney

St Magnus Cathedral, Kirkwall, Orkney

From my home in Fife, just across the water from Edinburgh, all these places make for quite a long trip and careful planning is needed. If a ferry is involved, often it means getting to Oban first and that is a 3 hour drive. Mallaig - for Eigg - is a good bit further. Tayinloan or Kennacraig, for Gigha and Islay respectively are also a 3 hour drive.

Usually you have to be at the ferry terminal at least 30 minutes before departure, and with building in a bit of time for toilet stops and contingencies, you have to leave the house at least 4 hours before the ferry time. You will have to make a reservation if you want to take your car on the more popular routes, and well in advance in the summer months. On the smaller ferries you just drive up and get on the next one.

Gigha Ferry

Gigha Ferry

I flew to Barra, Lewis, Tiree and Colonsay. Loganair was the carrier for most of those short hops, but I used Hebridean Air from Oban to get to Colonsay. All those flights are on small planes and lots of fun.

Waiting

Waiting

During the peak season accommodation is at a premium in these small places, so that has to form part of the advance planning. I think I have only once been disappointed by accommodation on the islands, but remember that it is a short season with relatively high demand (in normal times) so what you get may not always seem like value for money if compared with other parts of the country.

Where would be top of my list to return to? Iona. It is special. It has so much of the country’s history as well as being remote and slightly spiritual. I am not “spiritual” but on Iona I got it.

Jura Ferry

Jura Ferry

Where is top of my list to go to for the first time? Well, I will finish my book before I make up my mind, but at the moment Coll, Raasay or Canna.

Coll is a strong possibility because I loved nearby Tiree, and it is on Hebridean Air’s route map as well as Calmac's.

Raasay is easily accessible from Skye, which is a long drive from home but no ferries are involved. My late father had a long involvement with the buyout of the island from its absentee landlord during the 1970s, so I would love to see how it is now.

I loved my time on Eigg, and getting there and back by car, train and ship, so another of the Small Isles beckons. Canna seems right.

My View, Eigg

My View, Eigg

Meantime, I am staying at home and trying to stay safe. A good book helps.

Posted by IainT 23:31 Archived in Scotland Tagged beaches planes boats scotland ferries transport flights lewis airlines orkney barra lismore islay stornoway eigg calmac islandlife colonsay steòrnabhagh leòdhas na_hearadh barraigh vatersay bhatarsaigh eiriosgaigh eriskay Comments (0)

Iceland - Part 2

all seasons in one day 12 °C
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Gullfoss

Gullfoss

Exploring Iceland beyond Reykjavík presented me with several options.

I thought of taking an internal flight, perhaps to Akureyri in the north or Ísafjörður in the Westfjords, but when I looked into it the area close to the capital seemed to offer plenty of opportunities for the time I had available.

Then it was a question of how best to grasp them.

Excursions by coach or minibus were on offer from every website I looked at, but I am not very good at fitting into the regimented nature of those. They also seemed to be expensive.

Car hire has a reputation for being very expensive in Iceland, but someone who visited recently recommended it as being cost effective as compared with excursions, as well as much more flexible.

A rented car is what I opted for - not for the whole of my 6 night/5 day visit, but for 3 days.

My first outing took me east from Reykjavík along the south coast, just past Vík í Mýrdal to the Mýrdalssandur glacial outwash plain.

Vík lies directly south of the Mýrdalsjökull glacier, which itself is on top of the Katla volcano. Katla has not erupted since 1918, and this long dormant period taken with the volcano’s past history has led to expectation that an eruption is overdue.

Reynisdrangur at Vík

Reynisdrangur at Vík


Mýrdalssandur is like a desert of black sand, and remarkable to see. So is the black sand beach at Vík í Mýrdal, with the sea stacks of Reynisdrangar in the background.

Mýrdalssandur

Mýrdalssandur

Vík í Mýrdal is 187 km (116 miles) from Reykjavík. Much of that distance is on a 2 lane road, with a speed limit which never goes above 90 kph, so you have to be ready to take your time.

The glacier at Sólheimajökull was the highlight of that day. It is really impressive, and being able to get very close quite easily was great.

Sólheimajökull

Sólheimajökull

The other notable sight I took in as part of that day out is the Skógafoss waterfall. It is very impressive, although by the time I reached it the weather had turned wet which made the visit a little damp.

Skógafoss

Skógafoss

My other day trip took me inland, again to the east of the city, as far as Gullfoss. It is 125km away (78 miles), again on 2 lane roads most of the way.

The waterfall there was the main attraction - just amazing.

Nearby is Geysir, which gives its name to geysers. Geysir itself is dormant, but Strokkur a few metres away erupts joyfully every 5-10 minutes. The whole site is bubbling with hot water at 80-100⁰c.

Strokkur at Geysir

Strokkur at Geysir

That day was also cut short by wet weather.

Strokkur Erupts

Strokkur Erupts

What little I saw of Iceland on those days trips really gave me a flavour of how unique it is, and a desire to return to see more. The weather is a downside of course, as are the eye watering prices. Going there in the last week in June was an inspired decision, with 24 hour daylight to enjoy and midnight sun (if it was visible).

Posted by IainT 13:15 Archived in Iceland Tagged waterfalls beaches island iceland islandlife Comments (0)

Barcelona - Travel Tips

sunny 18 °C
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Old Style

Old Style

Well then, what about some of the nuts and bolts of that trip to Barcelona.

I arrived on a direct Ryanair flight from Edinburgh. It cost £99 for their “Plus” service, which includes a checked in bag.

Being direct made it attractive, but the 06:30 departure detracted from it. I live 40 minutes away from the airport and with early morning being one of the busiest times there, you assume you will have to be there before 05:00.

Ryanair, 04:45

Ryanair, 04:45

The other negative was arriving (10:30) in Barcelona long before most accommodation places will let you check in.

On balance it worked out well, partly because I stayed at an airport hotel the night before and partly because Ryanair had their bag drop really well organised. It took just 5 minutes. Of course the hotel night added to the cost significantly - £69 including breakfast.

I left on Air France via Paris. £153 one way. It was a 17:50 departure, which gave me half the day in the city.

Our Airbnb host suggested the Aerobus service to and from the airport, as its city terminus is at Plaça de Catalunya and is convenient for the Metro line closest to the apartment. The bus was excellent. €5.90 each way. The service runs very 5 minutes to/from terminal 1 and every 10 minutes for terminal 2.

Aerobus

Aerobus

The host also suggested Locker Barcelona for luggage storage if we needed it. We did. It is very conveniently located on Carrer d’Estruc, 5 minutes walk from the Aerobus. It cost €13 for the day for their largest locker, taking our 2 suitcases and 1 carry on bag.

Yes, you guessed by now, we had an Airbnb apartment. It was one of the highlights of the visit, in fact. We loved it. Quiet, spacious, clean, convenient location - no negatives.

Terrace

Terrace

It is in Carrer de Pàdua, close to Lesseps station on the Metro line L3. It is on the fringe of the Gràcia neighbourhood, which is wonderful for small shops, bars and restaurants with the bonus of being relatively tourist free.

It was a 5 minute walk in the morning to buy croissants for breakfast. It has a terrace to eat them on.

The cost was £82 per night (for 5 nights) including a cleaning fee and the Airbnb fee. Great value for money.

We used the Metro to get around. A 10 journey ticket cost €10.20 - a great deal compared with a single for €2.20. It has a reputation for pickpocket problems, so we were careful but had no problems.

Barri Gòtic

Barri Gòtic

As for sights we visited Parc Güell, Montjuïc, Barri Gòtic, Port Vell and Sant Pau Recinte Modernista. Oh, and the beach.

Parc Güell

Parc Güell

We did not pay to get into the monument area at Parc Güell having seen plenty just walking around the park. You get great views of the city, especially from the highest point (strange that, but true anyway).

Castell de Montjuïc

Castell de Montjuïc

Montjuïc gives fantastic views too. We paid to get into the castle - €5 p/p. The cable car and funicular up from Paral-lel Metro were not operating (out of season), although the cable car from Port Vell was.

We walked. It was good for us.

We enjoyed sitting outside at the cafe inside the castle - a few days into March and 18⁰c.

Sant Pau Recinte Modernista was one of the sights we enjoyed most. It is less visited than some, and I got the recommendation from someone who regularly visits family in the city as a result of which she has a bit of an inside track. Entry was €14 p/p.

Sant Pau Recinte Modernista

Sant Pau Recinte Modernista

We ate very well in the city. The local wine was great, and fantastic value too. We had a tapas “dinner” at La Bicicleta and normal dinners at Can Punyetes and El Rebost de la Plana.

Can Punyetes

Can Punyetes

To give an idea of prices, dinner for two at Can Punyetes cost €34.70. For that we had grilled veal as main courses, desserts, bread, water (a medium bottle), a coffee and a litre of house red. The wine was €5.50, and excellent.

Being honest, I cannot find fault with any of the arrangements we set up for travel or accommodation, nor with our food, drink or sightseeing experiences. A wonderful few days.

Posted by IainT 15:14 Archived in Spain Tagged beaches food barcelona restaurants spain transport flights catalunya airlines Comments (0)

Unique

all seasons in one day 15 °C
View Barraigh on IainT's travel map.

Loganair Disembarking

Loganair Disembarking

Barra is a lovely place to visit in its own right, but for me the unique flight experience was a big part of the attraction in visiting the island.

The airport is unique, being the only one anywhere in the world where scheduled flights use the beach as the runway. The airport opened in 1936 and is now operated by HIAL (Highlands and Islands Airports Limited). HIAL operates most of the smaller airports around the Scottish highlands and islands.

So how does it all work? The airport is located at the northern tip of the island at the wide shallow bay of Traigh Mhòr (“Big Beach” in English). The beach is set out with three runways in a triangle, marked by permanent wooden poles at their ends. At high tide these runways are under the sea and flight times vary according to the tide.

On Approach

On Approach

Loganair operates the flights - to and from Glasgow twice daily in the summer except on Sunday when it is a single flight. They use an 18 seat DHC6 Twin Otter which has the capability to take off and land on the short “runways” and on wet sand.

Waiting

Waiting

For most travellers a flight in such a small aircraft is an experience in itself. The co-pilot supervises boarding and disembarkation. He/she does the safety demonstration. You have no cabin crew (or toilets). The cockpit is separated from the cabin by a bulkhead, but there is no door and so you can see almost everything which is going on in the cockpit even from the back row. I had flown on the aircraft type before - on the Tiree service.

Cosy

Cosy

On my trip to Barra the landing was very smooth and routine, in good calm weather. Here's a YouTube clip of a landing - back then Loganair operated as a franchise of FlyBe.

Arrivals

Arrivals

Seconds later you get off the plane, walk 50 yards across the beach to the terminal, spend 30 seconds passing through the terminal (more if you stop in the toilet) and then pick up your bag from baggage reclaim - a bus shelter type structure in the car park. I reckon it took 5 minutes from landing to get onto the bus to Castlebay.

Don’t linger in the toilet or you’ll miss the bus and have to wait 2 hours for the next one - or call a taxi and pay £15.

Leaving the island was different. The weather was wet and windy.

Wet & Windy

Wet & Windy

The bijou terminal (it’s not much bigger than a double garage) has a popular cafe and flights are an attraction for tourists, so it’s a busy wee place - especially when in that weather and folks want shelter. Check in “formalities” are relaxed and security does not exist.

Terminal

Terminal

We all got wet on that short walk to the plane. Fortunately I’d had the foresight to wear my hiking shoes as the beach was under a couple of centimetres of water. The plane was rocking about in the wind even when it was stationary prior to takeoff.

As we waited while the crew did final checks, from my window seat I could see the seaweed floating past. Take off was rough in the wind and through that layer of seawater. On the other hand it doesn’t last long - that’s the point - a very short runway and a tiny plane which takes off at low speed.

The experience of a lifetime.

Posted by IainT 06:40 Archived in Scotland Tagged beaches planes scotland island transport flights airlines barra islandlife castlebay barraigh Comments (0)

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