Wednesday, 29 August 2007

Popping in for a moment :)

Just popping in to tell you about my latest obsession! I am part of a new venture - a new Blog called the Roaring Forties. Tis a colaboration between a few of us 'over 40's' and we've all been hard at work setting it up and getting started.

So please come on over and check it out - we are rather proud of it :) There is a link down below - we are just a click away!

Not to worry - I will not be neglecting the Coffee Shop! I shall be right back once we've finished painting the new place.

See you there!

The Roaring Forties

Saturday, 25 August 2007

Woe is me......

I am undone!

Seems that when I found this wonderful little visitors book site - I neglected to read the directions properly? After filling in all the bits and bobs and cheerfully pushing the 'DONE' button, I discovered that it had posted in the main blog area of my Blog!

What to do? I don't want to delete it and start again and loose the valued visitors that have already signed it. Besides it looks quite nice tucked in there - very comfy and easy to access! Any one got an idea or two to make it permanent without loosing its developing character?


Wednesday, 22 August 2007

And just one more ponder before bed :)

I was just looking at my little site map on the right - amazing to see all those little red dots all over the world and to think that people from all sorts of strange and exotic places are reading MY blog!

What can I say but THANK YOU? :)

Hope you all enjoy my slightly off centre views of life in Zambia - I have great fun bringing them to you and promise to really get back on track now that my holiday malaise is over.

More coffee anyone?

Oh and I forgot to mention......

With all these ponderings on the weather and the winds of change - I decided it was time for my blog to get a 'face lift'!

Hope you like it - I'm still pondering it! Let you know when I've decided :)

The Winds of Change....

As I drove down the road today battling my way through the gusts of wind that flung leaves and dust at my car, it made me think of the changing seasons and the fact that we are coming into the 'oh god, is it EVER going to rain?' phase of the year again already! It hardly seems any time ago that I was waiting and gasping for a good down pour and asking everyone to do a rain dance for me! Then came the rains, the mud and a desperate longing for it all to stop and for the sun to come out again.

I have to wonder if we are ever happy with the weather? It's either too hot or too cold. It's raining too much or not enough... sun in or sun out? And I began to wonder - is there a perfect place on the earth where the weather is always just right? And if this magical place existed - would we still find SOMETHING to complain about?

Just thinking! :)

Saturday, 18 August 2007

What makes Zambian drivers so BAD!

Today I had a serious sense of humour failure - you could even refer to it as a dose of road rage I suppose!

Now I am a reasonable person and a considerate road user. I value my car, my life and the life of other road users so it makes me so MAD when I have to deal with road hogs and idiots every time I leave my driveway and venture forth into the madness that is called 'Driving in Zambia'! Today was a classic example of the selfish, thoughtless and inconsiderate behaviour of Mr Johnny Average on the Zambian roads that sent my blood pressure through the roof with my anger reaching about 8 on the Richter scale.

Coming back into Ndola (on the main through road) after a pleasant morning spent at the stables, the girl child and I were brought to a sudden and grinding halt at the small intersection entering the main road by the service station by a mini bus taxi pulling halfway across the road with a squealing of tyres and a smoking of brakes to stop and block the traffic to allow a procession of vehicles proceeding to the cemetery access. Although extremely annoying this is fairly normal practise in Zambia and while letting forth a few expletives, I came to a resigned halt to wait for the road to clear. A long que soon built up behind us and as the last car turned into the road and I began to move forward slowly, low and behold - another car pulled around on my left (we drive on the LEFT in Zambia!) and started to overtake by pushing past me and trying to force me to stop and let him through! Unfortunately the mini bus was still blocking half the road and I really had nowhere to go but straight or hit either the car illegally on my left or the min bus illegally stopped in the middle of the road!

I'm afraid I lost it completely. I swore like a trouper, I put my hand on the hooter and I continued to drive straight ahead forcing the car off the road and giving the mini bus driver more to think about than he had bargained for! For a moment I imagined I was driving a bulldozer and visions of pushing them all out of my way floated across my mind as the girl child shouted 'Mum!' in surprise and horror and the mini bus driver revved and wheelied forward. I have no idea what the car driver did as I watched him swerve to the side and almost fall into the ditch - a feeling of pure hatred raging through me!

What a wonderful feeling of triumph surged through me! Hah - take that you bastards! Don't MESS with ME you swine! The feeling lasted but a few moments before I came to my senses and thought about the possible outcome of my loss of control could have been. Road rage is a terrible thing to experience and, no matter what the provocation, is NEVER the answer.

So I am sorry I lost it but.... why can't drivers on the road just take a little time to think about other road users? Why do they assume that their needs on the road are greater than everyone elses? And why, oh why, does the licencing department give these morons licences without even the pretence of undertaking a driving test?

Friday, 3 August 2007

Our Scottish Adventure!

A rather tame crossing over the border - this is the only
sign that you are leaving England to start on
your adventure into the unknown!
Be there Dragons?

Real Scottish heather!


Leaving Perth - next stop Edinburgh


Edinburgh Castle - in passing!

Part of our Quest for Edinburgh Castle

Edinburgh Castle - in passing again!

Beautiful building seen during
our Quest - no idea!

The cable car at Ben Nevis - from the top!

Going UP!

One of many fantastic views from
the train window

and another!

Mallaig harbour

Harry Potters Bridge!

First station stop on the line

View along the crest of the mountain ridge
south bank Lock Ness

A Scottish Kirk!

Just one of the many beautiful gardens
overflowing with flowers that we saw

One of the many delightful little villages
encountered along the way

Our Hotel - The Old Pines
View from the Dining Room

A view from the top of a mountain road

Lord of the Isles - The Jacobite Steam Engine

The main tearoom in Mallaig

Just one view in Inverness

Canal boat on the Loch Ness

Another view of part of Loch Ness

Once a year, come rain or shine, the great pilgrimage to the land of our forefathers takes place. It is a time of great planning with many decisions to be made as to which new part of the United Kingdom we will visit each year. The main purpose of this annual pilgrimage is to see the first born and middle sons - the first couple of weeks always being spent, therefore, in the surprisingly comfortable if rather modern town of Milton Keynes.

This year it was decided to visit Scotland. Not just 'tame' Scotland but the wild and untamed (sort of!) Scottish Highlands of Robert the Bruce and Bonnie Prince Charlie fame. A trip which was also to fulfill a long held dream of mine to go Nessie hunting along the banks of that most famous of all Scotland's lochs - Loch Ness! So having packed the girl child off to Rome with her brother and a few friends, the husband and I hired a car and set off to drive the 350 odd miles to a delightful little town called Spean Bridge - right in the heart of the Highlands and overlooked by the UK's highest mountain, Ben Nevis.

Leaving Milton Keynes at the crack of dawn, we took the M6 North as far as Glasgow before heading off along the 'scenic' route to Fort William and thence to Spean Bridge. Glasgow caused a bit of a problem as the navsat my oldest and most diligent son had set up for us decided that Glasgow was even more than it could handle and went into a major sulk just when we needed it most! After being told to 'cross the (non-existent) roundabout and take the third exit' one too many times, the husband had a complete sense of humour failure and ripped it from its moorings, to be stuffed in the glove box and not to see the light of day again until returned to its rightful owner!

I was handed a map (the BIGGEST I have ever seen!) and told to take over navigation - a very dangerous thing to do as I have absolutely no sense of direction whatsoever which was well proved when I managed, in some way I still do not understand, to send us backwards over a very large bridge and off to the airport! A simple 'You'll have to turn around dear and go back the other way' was met with a few very choice words as the simplicity of my suggestion turned into the reality of actually trying to turn around on a four lane highway and to find the right exit to the bridge to be under repair and closed with a diversion which seemed to take us all around Glasgow! Thankfully good relations were quickly restored as the beauty of the route took over and the road became less well traveled.

As you slowly climb further and further up into the mountains and the air gets fresher and sharper, a sense of the vast isolation of the place begins to creep over you. The mountains are enormous with only a few little cottages standing in the big open valleys below. Each bend in the road brings yet another amazing vista that just has to be photographed! Progress, while steady, was slow! Finally, you come down into a valley and drive along the very edge of an enormous stretch of water, the steep sides of the mountains falling into the deep water. As you wind your way along the edge of a loch, the sudden appearance of the brightly flowered garden of a little stone cottage nestling amongst some trees comes as a bit of a surprise before being lost again as you travel around another bend. Finally you drive into the coastal port of Fort William, a strange mixture of old and new - one of the first things to strike my eye being a large and ugly Macdonalds! Although still bearing the name 'Fort William', the fort itself no longer exists having been bulldozed just after the 2nd World War to make place for expansion and housing. A silly thing to have done and much resented by most of the Scotsmen that I chatted with!

Spean Bridge is only 7 miles further up the road. We stayed in a delightful little hotel called The Old Pines - it gave the impression of a rather sophisticated log cabin! Our room was spotlessly clean and beautifully decorated with a superb little bathroom and with a wonderful shower pressure of steaming hot water. A delight in every way! We were welcomed with offers of tea or coffee and freshly baked scones with homemade raspberry jam and clotted cream - absolutely delicious. Although being small, it was extremely comfortable in every way - the owner making every effort to make you feel very welcome.

Our first outing of the trip was a day's excursion on the Jacobite Steam Railway which runs from Fort William to Mallaig and back every day, a trip of some 80 miles of the most amazing vistas I've ever seen. One of its major advertising blurbs informs you that the tracks run over the bridge used in the Harry Potter movies - a rather disappointing concrete edifice that must have been well air-brushed for the movies we decided! Otherwise a charming experience as our 'little engine' puffed its way up and down the hills with a merry toot at the road crossings to finally draw into Mallaig Station - gateway to the Isle of Skye amongst others. From this small fishing village you can catch the Caledonian Ferry to the Isle which, I believe, is well worth a visit. Mallaig itself mainly consists of little tourist traps in the form of curio shops and cafe's - our excursion only allowed time for a bite of lunch and a little shopping before hopping back onto the train for the return trip. The railway itself is run by a few steam enthusiasts who sell maps and other mementos and raffle off a couple of bottles of good Scotch whisky on the train - all proceeds going towards running expenses. It was a pleasant and fun way to see the countryside - I've always had a soft spot for the old 'puffing billy'!

With a couple of hours to spare between dinner and our train trip, my hubby persuaded me to venture forth up the mountains on the Ben Nevis cable car. Being rather fearful of high places I had my doubts about the wisdom of this but it was well worth it. The cable car doesn't actually run up Ben Nevis itself but goes about two thirds of the way up the neighbouring mountain from where you can get some pretty stunning views below and look at the patches of snow still on Ben Nevis' peaks. I was astonished to see mountain bikes for hire - apparently some people actually take their bikes up in the cable car and RIDE them down! The rough path down is very steep and winding and full of rocks - I just can't imagine anyone being that daft! Sadly there was no-one on the way down whilst we were there but the lady in the curio shop (yes, even at the top of a mountain) assured me that people do this all the time. Bizarre!

The following day was put aside for a session of 'Nessie Spotting' as we planned a day trip along the south bank to Inverness, returning along the much more popular north bank and stopping in to see Urquart Castle (or its remains at least!). The drive along the south bank took us high into the mountains to start with - absolutely amazing views and not even a sheep in sight - then down to the loch's edge to drive along a tunnel of trees with views across the loch suddenly appearing between the trees when least expected. There was definitely an eerie feeling as we drove along a nearly deserted road under a canopy of green - if Nessie was anywhere about, I'm sure this was the place! Maybe looking back at me as I peered through the trees looking for her? All too soon we reached Inverness and, regrettably, the hoards of tourists that flock to Loch Ness every year. I was glad that we had followed our booking agents advice to go along the south bank which seems to be far less appealing to your average tourist than the much more developed north bank.

Inverness is a pretty little town with beautiful old buildings and and well kept flower gardens and was a pleasure to drive through. We decided to stop for lunch at a largish hotel overlooking the loch just outside the town. After lunch and a spot of souvenir shopping at the rather expensive shop in the lobby, we moved on to Urquart Castle - a fascinating look into the past and another chance to spend money! A bit further up the road we came across a 'Nessie Information Centre' and couldn't resist checking it out. It was great fun - it had been set up as a sort of 'interactive' walk through which we thought was rather clever and would be very appealing to children in particular. They showed videos and explained in fair detail the past sightings and hunts for the 'Monster' and gave various facts and figures - all very interesting stuff.

After a leisurely breakfast the following day, it was time to head back to Milton Keynes. We decided to take a different route via Edinburgh to catch up with the M1 South - in theory giving us a clear run all the way back. It was a lovely scenic drive down through the mountains into the lower, more gentle 'hills' below. Our route took us through Perth (the original!), very pretty and easy to negotiate, and then on to Edinburgh.

Edinburgh - amazing place and much bigger than I expected! It was here that even the hubby's directional skills (normally considerable I might add!) came completely unstuck! The place was hopping with humanity, cars and buses and we drove round and round in square circles trying to find access to the mighty Edinburgh Castle. As you can see from my pictures, we were only mildly successful - those were taken as we kept trundling down wrong turns and one way streets in a desperate attempt as tempers rose with the temperature in the car! After wasting a considerable amount of time we decided to get the hell out of the place and then spent even more time trying to do that too! I'm afraid my impressions of what is in reality a very beautiful city were rather marred by this frustrating experience.

Then it was back on the road, time now pressing after all the craziness in Edinburgh, for a pleasant but rushed drive down the coastline and back, eventually, across the border into England and a long, weary trip on an overcrowded motorway to Milton Keynes.

I loved the wildness and vastness of the Scottish Highlands. I loved the fresh air and the cleanliness of the country and I hope one day to return to do some more exploring!

Wednesday, 1 August 2007

Just a small taste of the Splendour that is Scotland!

I just wanted to show you a little of the grandiosity that is the Scottish Highlands to wet your appetites! I'm afraid I have so much 'catch up' work to do before I can spare the time to fully show you this amazing and glorious place - and I really do want to do our Scottish holiday full justice - so I will be back with more, I promise!

Until then - enjoy the beauty in this wild and untamed place.