Showing posts from 2023

Seaside Special - NC500 part 1: North Lanarkshire, Falkirk, Stirling, Perth & Kinross, east Highland

Bucket lists. Do you love ‘em or hate ‘em? I’m firmly in the first camp. But then I love lists full-stop. I’ve got a gig list going back to my first concert at Hammersmith Odeon in 1984. I’ve got a list of all my Cheltenham Festival winners since 2000 (that’s a micro-list to be fair). Maybe I should have a list of lists? And yes, I have a travel bucket list. The NC500 is on it. Tick. A circular tour around the top of Scotland, beginning and ending at Inverness, the NC500 was only officially launched and hawked as a tourist route in 2010. It had existed long before that of course, as a loose, undefined journey along deserted, barely serviced coastal highways and byways known best by crusty camper-vanners and belligerent bikers. The success of the marketing has changed all that. The journey is now venerated as an ‘epic road trip’ up there with Route 66, South Africa’s Garden Route and the Iceland Ring Road. Rightly so. Jumping on trends is something I rarely do, but when it came to t

Seaside Special - Skye is the limit: west Highland

  I’m surrounded by a jigsaw of blurry photo prints, OS maps and website screen-shots spread out across the office desk. It looks like an evidence board for a murder drama. I’m trying to piece together a youth hostel trip to Scotland from the late 80's/early 90's. None of the prints are dated or annotated. I recognise the faces of our group and some of the buildings. And even some of the landscapes. But not all of them. They were chucked in an album with pics of the Peak District and the Norfolk Broads from 1991. So that’s the year. But wait. The photos were in the wrong album. After a bit of checking, it’s definitely 1989, the year after I graduated.  Geographically, the trip fits well in the blog series at this point as we go clockwise round the UK, but the recollections are going to be as patchy as a politicians autobiography. Picking out a few highlights and strong memories, whilst skating over the rest. The trip was a big deal at the time. Our most ambitious youth host

Seaside Special - Diary of a Caledonian Sleeper: south Highland

One interpretation of this post is that it is a simple tale of commuting. Although as journeys to work go, a 36-hour round-trip on the Caledonian Sleeper via Fort William to my office in Camden was a little out of the ordinary. If nothing else, it was a refreshing punctuation in the daily grind of stuffed peak-hour trains and the odorous Victoria Line hell. That journey, back in 2011, was my first expedition on the overnight service to Scotland.   The Caledonian Sleeper remains one of only two such overnight franchises in the UK. The other is through the West Country to Penzance, on the  Night Riviera . I grabbed a berth in 2018.  Both services, having endured perilous existences and operated under constant threat of closure for years, seem to be seeing renaissances. I’ve enjoyed the sleeper jaunt Scotland on a number of occasions in the dozen years since my initial trip, most recently on brand spanking new rolling stock via Glasgow to Ayr last year. But nothing will ever feel