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Monday, 21 July 2014

Wilderness Scotland and Panda Experience

I've already been back from Scotland for a few days after having a really busy time, so busy that I didn't have a chance to write my blog. So forgive me if this one ends up being short and sweet, they are always better written as it happens.

Day 1

We had a relatively early start this morning to get on the road heading for Scotland. I had a feeder meeting point off route and it had also been badly timed so by the time I had picked up all my passengers I was already 40 mins behind time. Not good when we have such a distance to travel so I was starting the day already a little bit wound up!

We got on the road, had a coffee break at motorway services then pressed on to the Old Blacksmith's Shop at Gretna Green for lunch. When we arrived, there must have been 30 coaches there. Luckily, most of them were just on their way out. They are very well geared up to cope with large numbers of people here and I've never found a problem with lack of food, slow service or no where to sit, regardless of how busy they are.

There was a wedding taking place while we were here which some of my passengers enjoyed watching. After some lunch and a bit of browsing in the shops we were back on the road, next stop, our hotel.

We are spending the next 4 nights at the Best Western Winnock Hotel in Drymen, just 4 miles from Loch Lomond. We checked in, I had a very spacious, comfortable room with a double bed, always a bonus! There was time for a soak in the bath for dinner.

Our evening meal was very good but I didn't like the room we were eating in. It was far too small for the size of our group and we were squashed in like sardines. There was no air conditioning and with the low ceilings if was uncomfortably hot. I did enjoy the food though.

Day 2

This morning we have quite a long drive to get to our destination in North Berwick.
We are going to the Scottish Sea Bird Centre. We arrived just before 12 and had an introductory talk before going around the Discovery Centre for an hour. We then had half an hour to grab some lunch before meeting up again at 1:30 for our trip on the privately chartered trip on the catamaran, out to Bass Rock to see the bird colonies.

We were just gathering together when one of the staff came and informed us that our trip would have to be delayed because the tide was out and our boat was sat on the sand! How ridiculous the skipper can't read a tide timetable! So we had another hour to do not a lot before our boat trip. It was a good thing it was a beautifully sunny day so people didn't really mind. 

The boat trip was certainly well worth the wait. I was most fascinated by the Puffins.
(Image taken from Google)

Everyone thoroughly enjoyed the trip. I tried to drive the boat but the skipper was having none of it!

Obviously we were now quite late in leaving and we still had the same long journey back to the hotel.

We went straight in for dinner when we got back to the hotel. The meal, once again was lovely. I had an early night because we have a really early start tomorrow.

Day 3

Breakfast this morning was at 6:30, confirmed by the hotel last night, but when we arrived the receptionist said she was expecting us at 8! The staff were then in a mad panic and it wasn't looking like we would be leaving on time at 7:30.

We left 15 minutes late for today's excursion which was another 2 hour drive away. We were going on a land rover Highland Safari near Aberfeldy.

When we arrived we were split into 2 groups. The first group would go off in the land rovers while the other group met and fed the herd of Deer at the centre and met the relatively new resident Barn Owl.

I was in the first group so did the safari first. We went up into the hills where the weather wasn't very good and only got a glimpse of a Deer before she ran away. We didn't see any other animals but we had a lot of fun and I found out what is under a Scots mans kilt!

The groups swapped over and we fed the Deer.

And met the Barn Owl.

After the second group came back in land rovers we had lunch here before a scenic drive back to the hotel. The weather on the journey back to the hotel was horrendous but not bad enough to not be able to see the dramatic scenery. 

It was a bit of a challenging drive although I enjoyed it. We travelled along the length of Loch Earn before heading back towards the Trossachs, passing Loch Lubnaig and Lake Menteith, the only lake in Scotland. All others are Lochs.

We arrived back at the hotel at 4:30 and the weather had turned nice again. Many people took the short walk to the viewpoint where you could just see Loch Lomond.

After travelling through such horrible weather today my coach was looking dirty so I gave her a quick wash before dinner so she was all sparkly and ready for another days work tomorrow.

Day 3

We had a more respectable breakfast time this morning before leaving at 9:30. I put in another scenic drive this morning, again over the Trossachs but this time up to Aberfoyle, over Dukes Pass where you get a glimpse of Loch Katrine, along Loch Drunkie, Loch Achray and Loch Venachar to Kilmahog where we stopped at the woollen mill for coffee and to meet Hamish the Highland Bull.

From here we travelled through Callender to pick up the motorway, over the Kinkardine Bridge and the Forth Road Bridge into Edinburgh where we had free time for lunch.
(Image taken from Google)

After a couple of hours free time we transferred to Edinburgh zoo. We had 2 hrs free time with the option of a one hour guide showing the highlights before our private viewing of the Pandas.

For many of the group this was the highlight of the trip and for some, the reason for booking this holiday. 

We then had a private viewing of the penguins which I thought was quite disappointing. We didn't see anything any better than the general public and I was disappointed we couldn't have any interaction with them.

We left the zoo at 6:30 so once again, it was straight in for dinner after an exhausting day.

Day 5

This morning we are checking out and heading home after a very busy holiday. We stopped at Moffat Woollen Mill for morning coffee before going to Carlisle for lunch. Everyone is always unsure when Carlisle is mentioned as lunch stop but it is very nice since it has been redeveloped and always goes down well. We stopped at Barton Grange Garden Centre mid afternoon before tackling the M6 traffic home. We had a horrible journey from here on and I came in half an hour late. Over the last 5 days I have driven just short of 2000km! Although it has been a busy time and hard work, I and all the passengers have thoroughly enjoyed this trip. It's been nice to do something a bit different.