I woke up having gotten about 6½ hours sleep, washed and went down to consume my £5 continental breakfast at the Ibis Hotel, North Preston. I was surrounded by workmen who were obviously staying there for some project or other. Given the current state of my symptoms, I stuck to apple juice, white toast and vegemite (in case of midges on the trip). I returned to my room, unplugged the recharger on my camera batteries and took myself and my bags down to the lobby to wait, as we were due to leave at 8.00 a.m. on the dot.
Whilst eating breakfast, I had noticed two women sitting with bags in the lobby. It later transpired, when I went outside to get some air, that they were part of the tour, too. Barbara and Jo, both of whom were friends with three other members of our group: Barry, his wife Jean, and their friend Joan, with whom I was to share accommodations. They had all done the Cathar Country tour together. No sooner were the introductions over with then we were joined by Fae and then Liz.
Shortly thereafter, Neil arrived with the mini van and two passengers on board. Miriam (later to be nicknamed Crystal Tits) was on the far side of three seats. When it was revealed that three of our intrepid travellers were together, she did not move to accommodate them and this struck me as odd, though it quickly fell from my thoughts, to be resurrected at a later time. Also on board was Simon – who turned out to be a treasure.
The bags were loaded and everyone piled on board, though it would seem Fae was unable to secure a seat, so found herself in the front seat with Neil. This would result in her being navigator throughout the whole trip; not to mention helping Neil with the organization of his paperwork. And, we were off on one of the longest days of the trip wherein we travelled without seeing any archaeological sites.
Neil drove at a fair pace, except when encountering roadworks, but my attention was drawn to a marvellous landscape just outside of Preston, called the Howgills. Will have to go back and visit them sometime.
Our first break came at Annandale Water where the services are flanked by beautiful ground with an abundance of bird wildlife. The sun was out and so was our tour group, soaking it up while drinking their coffee. We sat for a while, and then continued onwards. I have to say, I knew the instant we crossed into Scotland – everything seemed to change – despite never being to the northwest border before. There is a different energy to Scotland; an unmistakeable feel. Its as though the ancient ones have never left or been forgotten.
We parked up for lunch at the Baxters Soup complex at Blackford. There were plenty of shops and a distillery, but most plumped for the cafe in the Baxters Emporium. Barry, Jean and Joan had a picnic beside a stream hosting some trout which was a spendid idea. From Baxters Emporium, we motored across Scotland to arrive at Sandhaven, just south of Aberdeen for afternoon tea and a short break. It was my first sight of a beach in several months and it was teeming with birds. The sun was shining when we arrived, but that was to change in the space of a few minutes. It was a glorious place to stop.
I managed to get my camera out and take a few snaps (though upon my return I realised my lenses were dirty throughout so everything is smudged). The cliffs were very interesting:
And, I managed a snap of a Less Black Back Gull in flight:
As we stood looking out to sea, the mist started rolling in and, it would seem, follow us on all our sea journeys. When I trundled back to the ATM to get some cash, my nose focussed on a familiar perfume from my childhood. I queried the lady at the ATM about it and, as it turns out, she was from Clayfield, Brisbane – my home during my teenage years. In fact, she lived only two streets away from our old house. I helped her with the ATM, as she was having difficulty and we talked about our respective holidays. She was very interested in my tour, so I told her where our bus was parked and to come and get a brochure. Fifteen minutes later, she appeared and Neil did his spiel, much to the Brisbanite lady’s delight. Talk about connections!
We set off for Aberdeen port and arrived at the ferry. Once we embarked, I immediately headed for the viewing deck as I like to be out of doors when travelling on water and I wanted to see the Aberdeen skyline. I took my camera and took some photographs of the ship next to us, Subsea 7.
We had the opportunity of watching the men work for an hour before we set sail for Kirkwall in Orkney. I did take some photographs leaving the habour and these can be seen at my Flikr account in the 2008 Tour Collection in the Scotland set. We had beautiful views for about half a mile, when the fog set in. The water was almost perfectly still, so the sailing was fine, but we could see nothing. There was no opporunity to see any whales or other wildlife, apart from the occasional gull which glided in the ship’s wake. I know this because I spent as much time up on deck as I could to avoid sea sickness. At about 20.00, I went to have some dinner from the cafe. As much as the cabins are clean and comfortable on Northlink Ferries’ MV Hrossey, the food was a bit, well, unappetising, apart from the à la carte restaurant, which was a bit pricey and had to be pre-booked.
After dinner, Fae cornered me and we went to the front of the ferry to do crosswords. At the front, the motion was far worse, but Fae was anxious to avoid one of our fellow passengers with whom she had a discussion earlier in the day. I was later to learn for myself why this was necessary.
The ferry was late, and we arrived at our accommodation, Eastbank House, just before midnight. It was next to a Christian centre, which was a cause for comment by some of the tour group. We were warmly welcomed by the owner, Malcolm, who was a cheery as anyone I had ever met at that time of night. It was with dismay, however, that I learned I was to be on the top floor, given how heavy my bags were this was to be a bit of a chore. I was so pre-occupied with my own incovenience, I neglected to notice the discomfort of my roommate, Joan, who had also been suffering. I am ashamed to say, it would be at least another day before I would notice Joan’s downturn. I admit to being a miserable, self-absorbed, whinging kind of patient when I’m sick. I become completely self-centric.
The Eastbank House was indeed as “basic” as Neil had described and the bathroom in our twin room was unpleasant indeed. It was set up like a wet room, but was not fully tiled and there was mould rising on the damp walls (which appeared to be plasterboard and unsealed). The room could have done with a deep spring clean, but the beds were comfortable enough. It was difficult to sleep, however, as the windows could not be left open without constant rattling resulting from the outside wind, and the room was too warm to close the windows. I slept on top of the covers.
And so ended the first day of the tour.