The Highlands of Scotland Road Trip

Hello my little demons,

As most of you know, I moved to the Highlands of Scotland at the beginning of 2020 and was super excited to explore and share my travels with you guys. But then Covid-19 hit and I was pretty much confined to a single room with a very lovely family for about eight months and wasn’t able to get very far (I wrote two blog posts about this, I’ll leave the links at the end). The whole country; United Kingdom, went into lockdown in March 2020 and it eased for a few months before the majority of the country (at least England) going into lockdown again (and now we’re in another nationwide lockdown – including Scotland!). During those few months lockdown lifted, a friend of mine booked some time off work and decided to drive all the way up to Scotland to see me, and of course, see the Highlands of Scotland!

I firstly want to say, keep safe and don’t do any unnecessary trips, especially if you are in lockdown! If we all do our part, we can get out of this pandemic quicker.

On that note, I also want to say that this trip was done pre-lockdown. We also made a lot of precautions, including having hand sanitizer in the car, which we used very frequently, wore masks when going inside public buildings and kept 2 meters apart from other people. Luckily, the Highlands wasn’t very busy and the majority of it is wild and people-free. My friend also booked a hotel in Inverness for the whole week, we didn’t book any other hotels in the Highlands so as to avoid spreading the virus, so we explored the Highlands one day at time.

Now, I hope you enjoy the rest of this blog!

Day One – Packing and checking into the Hotel

The first day wasn’t that eventful, as my friend was driving over 500 miles from South West England to the Highlands. But, as I had finally found my own place, moving out of the single bedroom in a lovely family’s house into my own very first flat in the Highlands, I was packing my things – not that I had much to pack – and cleaning the room before he arrived.

As I mentioned in the little ‘disclaimer’ in the beginning of the blog post, my friend booked a hotel in Inverness city centre for the week, and had booked a twin room just in case I decided to stay so we could wake up early and set off straight away on adventures. I decided it would be best to just stay there, so I could clean the room before the adventure starts. Not having to go back to the house, clean, move my stuff into my flat half way through the adventure – no time was wasted!

When my mate did arrive, we bundled everything into the car, and because I am a massive motor-head, I have to mention he has a Mark 2 Ford Focus ST, which has been, err… ‘slightly’ modified. I won’t post any photos of it, as it is a little too easily distinguished. Once packed, we just went straight to the hotel, ordered a pizza, bought some beers/cider and chilled in front of the TV.

Day Two – The long way to the Isle of Skye

On day two, this is when the fun starts. We got up with the sole intention of driving to Bealach na Bà or also known as Applecross Path. The actual town of Applecross, at the end of the path, wasn’t the main attraction here, but the road to it, and it’s absolutely stunning!

But, of course, Applecross is a lovely little fishing village too, which deserves a mention. But as they say, it’s the journey, not the destination.

After a quick stop, having cold pizza left over from last night, a quick loo break, we then headed south to a little village called Plockton. I only really wanted to go because I thought the name was funny (and yes, I kept calling it Plonkton because I’m a child), and I quickly found it on a website of places to visit in the area… but I had no idea it was this pretty!

After a small walk about, and a stop in the local gift shop to get my obligatory postcards (it’s one of the things I collect), we got back into the car and decided Eilean Donan Castle wasn’t that far away and deserves at least a quick stop.

Now, this castle I have heard about and drove past at least twice before, once on the way to the Isle of Skye back in the summer of 2018 and back again only a month later – I had worked on the Isle of Skye for a few weeks, not being able to hack the job so ended up returning to my parents – I remember driving past the Castle and wishing I could stop to see it. The below photo shows you why.

Unfortunatley, it was a little busier than I had expected. We did visit in a Scottish school holiday, so there were a few people about, and it’s a popular tourist destination – well, it is on the way to the Isle of Skye!

Which brings me onto the end of the day, a quick trip over to the Isle of Skye!

Of course, there isn’t much in terms of photos, as we didn’t spend long there. We did, however, drive most of the Island, but the majority of it we were searching for a toilet! Word of warning, if you’re planning on touring about – make sure you empty your bladder as soon as you can! You don’t know when the next toilet will be!

By the time we did a loop and got back to Portree, the light started to fade not long after, so we stopped for a few minutes, enjoying the view of the harbor before heading back to the mainland.

Of course, we stopped by Eilean Donan Castle to see it lit up at night. We did, apparently, drive past Loch Ness on the way back, I did see it a little, but it was too dark to get any decent photos of it – plus, that was planned for another day!

Day Three – Oil Rigs, Lighthouses, Castles and Beaches

Day three and this one started off a little different. My mate told me about this area which holds a graveyard of oil rigs in Invergordon. Okay, so it’s not technically a graveyard, as they’re there to either be repaired or taken apart. But, in a weird way, I was impressed. Not your usual tourist stop.

This was our main point of call when we set off that morning. But as we knew it wouldn’t take all day to look at some oil rigs, we also had a bit of a wander about. We headed north after finding there was a lighthouse not that far away called Tarbat Ness Lighthouse.

We also had to stop off at this strange church and graveyard that we drove past to get to it – and had to drive past on the way back (on Google Maps it’s labeled as Tarbat Discovery Centre).

We then headed up the coast a bit more, to a castle that I had come across while researching places to visit; Dunrobin Castle. And I am glad we decided to stop, because it is absolutely beautiful! I actually had a couple of my photos printed and waiting to be framed!

Lastly, for the day, we also stopped at a beach a little further up as the sun was slowly setting, called Brora. Here we walked along the sand just soaking in the coastline for a bit, before getting a little cold – and worrying about getting stuck in the dark – and decided to head back to Inverness for an early night – we had a long day ahead the next day!

Day four – driving (part) of the NC500

Day four was the big one, the one we both were looking forward to doing: the NC500, or North Coast 500, if you didn’t know what that is, it Scotland’s “Route 66”. As the official website (northcoast500.com) says:

“Embark on one of the world’s most iconic coastal touring routes,
and discover the breath-taking beauty of the North Highlands;
a place where you’ll find white sand beaches, rugged mountains,
hidden gems and a wealth of unforgettable experiences.”

The route pretty much does the whole rim of the Highlands (see image below), although we didn’t do ALL of it – but we did most, in just one day. Most people go anti-clockwise, going north up to Wick first then round to the West coast, but as we were trying to do it all in one day (I don’t recommend this, but it goes to show that it is doable if you want to see if and are strapped for time) we went straight across to Ullapool to do the West coast in the daylight getting to John O’ Groats as the sun was just setting.

But, of course, we saw a lot of other stretches on other days, such as Applewood which you can see on South West of the map and Dunrobin Castle is close to Glospie on the A9 north of Inverness.

Image Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/North_Coast_500

We began our day being woken up pretty early (I think it was about 4 in the morning), because the fire alarm had gone off. We intended to get up early, hoping to hit our first stop just as the sun was rising but 4 in the morning was a little too early.

So, we had to rush outside in our PJs, the dark, damp, cold to wait for the fire engines to come and be allowed back into the building. I can’t remember what the issue was, but it was a false alarm, but luckily I managed to get back to sleep for a few more hours, finally waking up at 6ish.

We already had bought a few things from the shops the previous day, so we didn’t even stop for breakfast. We set off nearly right away (give me time to wake up and put makeup on!) and our first stop was Corrieshalloch Gorge.

Looking at the pictures of this bridge, and it looks harmless, but you get on it and wow, does it make your legs go to jelly! The bridge didn’t just wobble up and down like a typical suspension bridge would, but it also wobbled side to side! My mate even refused to get on it!

We only spent about 15-20 minutes there (feeling as if buying a parking ticket was pointless), but it is possible to walk around it a little, which I wish I did, but we were on a tight schedule to get to the top before sunset!

So, onwards to Ullapool.

I’m sure Ullapool has a lot more going for it than what we saw, but we only really stopped at Tesco’s to stock up on food/snacks, sit along the harbor front to have brunch (it wasn’t quite breakfast, but wasn’t quite lunch) and then set off again on our day trip.

We did stop quickly at Scourie Jetty, which we were extremely impressed to see the water was so clear! But, had to move on as yours truly needed to find a toilet again!

Our next stop was a little bit more north to Balnakeil Beach (Close to Durness on the map above). The one thing that I was hoping to see… and this might sound odd, but sod it… I honestly thought I might see some cows on the beach! I remember looking it up thinking it looks absolutely beautiful and then saw photos of these lovely black cows walking on the sand. Needless to say, I didn’t see cows on the beach, but I am glad I got to see such a beautiful beach… even if it was a little cold!

Before I tell you the next stop, I just want to throw in some photos of the view we had along the way, both between Ullapool and Balnakeil Beach but also after it.

Next was Smoo Cave (yes, you read that right!) and this was one I was really looking forward to! (Also close to Durness). Unfortunately, we weren’t the only ones who had the great idea to see it, as there were a few other people about – probably not as many as if it was peak season and no pandemic, but there was at least one that was a little loud, but I just ignored that one little annoyance and was impressed nonetheless. Although, I had hoped the cave went a little deeper, but that’s just me and my (weird) interest in caves!

The cave entrance is 50ft high, and is apparently the largest sea cave entrance in Britain (source link). One story I read is that it was believed to be the residence of the Devil, which I found pretty fascinating, but couldn’t find much about it online. If you’d like to read more about Smoo Cave, here are a few interesting and insightful links I did find: https://www.undiscoveredscotland.co.uk/durness/smoocave/index.html
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Smoo_Cave

The next stop was an unplanned stop, but as we were approaching it we saw how beautiful it was and had to stop – plus, the sun came out for us for a little bit which made it even more beautiful – and actually warmed up a little.

This is Ceannabeinne Beach…

And yes, if it wasn’t cold and it was open, I would totally have done that zip wire!

Our next stop was Melvich Beach, this one was at the request of my mate, and again, you can see why the west coast of Scotland is renown for it’s beaches! Unfortunately, as soon as we got there, it started to cloud over and most of my pictures are dark, and doesn’t do it any justice compared to the previous ones.

After Melvich Beach, the next stop was the most northern part of mainland Britain – No, not John O’ Groats! Dunnet Head! John O’ Groats isn’t the most northern part of Britain, it’s actually the end of the longest distance between two inhabited British points (Land’s End, Cornwall being the most southernly).

Dunnet Head is in fact the most northerly point of Scotland and Britain. Actually, if you want to be exact, Dunnet Head is the area, the tip is ‘known’ as Easter Head (or at least Wikipedia says it is, so it might be true?)

And NOW…. we have John O’ Groats…

As you can see, the sun was starting to fade and it was actually really pretty!

Now, we just had to drive back to Inverness to complete our very long day of driving almost the NC500.

Of course, we had to stop for some fish and chips in Brora (I recommend The Bear Den if you’re ever going that way!) and we had to stop to see the oil rigs lit up at night.

Day five – The last day around Loch Ness

The last day of my little Highland adventure, and we saved the monster hunting for last; Loch Ness Monster!

This might not seem as spectacular as the trip all the way around (almost) the NC500, but there are still some lovely surprises that I wasn’t expecting and just like the NC500, I would love to go back again!

Our first stop was around about Lochend, this was our first real view of Loch Ness.

We then stopped (well, I demanded we stop!) at a shop near Drumnadrochit, close to where Urquhart Castle was located as there was a shop on the side that I had to go in to get my obligitory postcards, and I… might have… got a few. We couldn’t see the castle unfortunately, as due to the virus (I think), they were operating on an appointment only basis. We couldn’t even get a sneak peak of it from somewhere, but our next stop kinda made up for it.

Above is Invermoriston Falls, and we caught it at probably the most beautiful time of the year, one of my favourites; Autumn. Okay, so I love Summer more because it’s warmer and I hate being cold, but Autumn is close second as it’s so pretty!

Next stop was Fort Augustus, we had a wander up the lochs and down to the view point (we did look out for Nessy, but couldn’t see her!)

We then drove back up Loch Ness on the other side, and I’m so glad we did! Although, for about half of it we weren’t driving next to the loch, hell, we couldn’t even see the loch from where we were, but it was absolutely stunning!

We then stopped at the Falls of Foyers. Hoods up… it’s a little wet!

We did manage to get back towards the loch and got some lovely shots before heading back to my flat for a well deserved take-away!

A big shoutout to my mate for driving all the way up to Inverness and putting up with my craziness! (Yes, that is a shell, she’s call Michelle).

Thanks for reading this rather longer post today! I’m hoping to go do the full NC500 in the summer this year (2021), fingers crossed the pandemic eases by then, and I will getting my motorbike licence (CBT first, then going straight to Direct Access for my big-boy licence). And then next year, I am planning to do the American version – the Route 66! (see below for a blog post on that!)

Here are the other Highland blog posts:

Moving to the Highlands
Six Months in the Highlands – Thanks, Covid-19!

Here are a few other travel posts:

Living in Australia – Part 1: Breakup from hell and Brisvegas
Douglas, South Lanarkshire – A Hidden Gem
A small trip to Reading – Wokefield Mansion
Living in Australia – Part 2: My first Christmas away from my parents (Christmas Special!)
Travelling Route 66 for Charity – Update

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A Slight Change in Plans! – My Route 66 Charity Tour

Hello my little demons!

So, there has been a ‘slight’ hick-up, which has resulted in changing my plans with my Route 66 Charity Tour.

BUT DONT FEAR! I’m still going!

I won’t go into detail, but long story short – I’ll be going on my own now. The friend I was supposed to go with has decided he no longer wants to be my friend. Don’t ask me why, I cannot answer that. As I cannot for the life of me work out what I said or did, I am just going to assume that it’s got nothing to do with me. I also do not want to divulge into it publicly as it’s not fair to do so. I will wish him luck in the future though.

It never really crossed my mind to cancel any of my plans. We had discussed a trip around the Highlands (the NC500 – Scotland’s Route 66), taking camping gear with us, and I’m still planning on doing that in the Spring/Summer once I’ve got my motorbike. And, of course, he was going to come with me down Route 66. If you’ve been following this story from the beginning, you will know that I tried to do something like this before; I was going to tour America and Canada for Charity, I had actually paid for a working holiday visa to Canada already, but my plans fell through. I’m determined not to let my plans fall through again! You can read about it here.

Plus, I really want to raise funds and awareness for Selective Mutism!

In light of what happened recently, it has made me realise that the only person I really trust is myself. People can easily let you down. So, I’ve made the decision to do this ALONE. It kinda feels poetic, actually, like one of those soppy life-changing movies that hit you in the feels. But with cars, motorbikes, food and the open road!

Hell, it’s going to be scary, but I’m hoping that I’ll build up my confidence, work on my skills filming and editing, and plan the socks off it, all in the next year or so until I go. It also has some new challenges that I never thought of before.

The three main challenges are; 1) filming myself – I have limited filming experience, other than just starting filming myself for my YouTube channel I am going to create, which involves me sat… still… at my desk, I have no idea how this will work. I’m going to research into hand-held cameras, go-pros or similar and figure out what the best options are. I know for sure that my beloved Nikon DSLR isn’t a good option – it only records 20 minutes at a time for a start! And I cannot see the screen to record myself – sitting at a desk is fine because I can set it up and sit still…. or try to at least.

2) the other biggest challenge is doing all the driving! With a second person, the driving can be split between us, but now I will be driving it all. Theoretically, I don’t see it being an issue, as I love driving and I will be taking my time seeing sights anyway along the way, so will be doing plenty of stops. I also am pretty handy, knowing a fair bit about mechanics in case something breaks, and will be considering this in the planning stage in case I need to look into breakdown cover options, researching recovery companies in the areas I drive through, and even taking a set of tools with me. But practically, I could get tired and make mistakes, getting lost or stuck. I also have to be weary when I’m taking to a camera and driving!

3) the last, and probably one of the more important ones, is personal safety. I’m sure the majority of the trip will be safe enough. I will be researching how safe areas are, making sure I only stop in safe areas and stay at hotels that have good ratings and so on. I do have some self-defense training from one of my old job roles, but I am also considering taking self-defense classes too. This is going to be one of the biggest things I will be researching and planning, especially being a female solo traveller!

On the up side though, doing it alone has it’s benefits – I can do what I want without compromise. I’m also introverted; socialising can drain me and I need to recharge, doing a whole month-long trip with someone else can get very tiring, and I know I like my own company. I can also be in control of the music. Also, being a solo-traveller, you’re more likely to get upgrades! 😉

So, although it was a huge shock and was a little upset when I lost a friend, I’m not going to let these things stop me from what I want to do in life!

Watch this space for more updates soon!
Also, watch this space for my first YouTube video – it’s currently being edited and will be uploaded soon!

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Travelling Route 66 for Charity – Update

Hello my little demons! 😈

I wrote a previous blog post explaining about my charity tour of America, and why I’m doing it, here.

Since then, I’ve already done a lot of planning (yet, still a lot more to go!). I’ve come up with lots of amazing ideas, bought some maps, found some amazing resources and I’m finally getting there with the intial interary.

We’re doing a road trip down Route 66!

(c) Penny Hooper

Now, Route 66 sounds like an easy thing, just follow the sign posts for Route 66, right? But Route 66, as I have found, has had many alterations over the years, bypasses and re-directs, bridges no longer used, cities and towns built up over it, even the start and end posts have moved.

The original Route was established on the 11th November 1926 (although, from what I can gather, it was being built before this), it was altered in 1930 to follow a completely different line between Springfield and East St. Louis. In the late 1930s, the route was redirected again to cut off Santa Fe. The original route used to connect gold and silver mines such as Oatman, but in the 1950s these were cut off, leaving Oatman abandoned. And a lot of the interstates that were constructed saw the Route 66 abolished, some even cut through the route, meaning it’s no longer possible to drive the whole of the old route anymore. I even saw one section is on private land now – and the owners were selling parts of it to keep it safe from further distruction!

As for the start and end points, these were also moved, both in Chicago and Los Angeles, which you will learn more about both when we come to do the tour but also in blog posts along the way. You can see the map below has the old and new routes, the red is the newer route, the pink/purple bits are the older routes.

Now, we could just stick to the newer route, the one that is mostly mapped on modern maps, but that would be too easy! So, we plan to travel down as much of the old route as possible (unless the road is too dangerous, a dead-end, on private property or no longer exists) to see the areas that those early road trippers would have seen.

Image Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/U.S._Route_66#Changes_in_routing

Originally, when I was coming up with ideas on what I wanted to do for this American tour, I was adamant to fit in lots. I wanted to see the Florida Keys, Atlanta, Washington DC, maybe visit New York city again, drive up to San Francisco up the California State Route 1 and visit the Bonnerville Salt Flats near Salt Lake City. When I realised doing the Route 66 will take a minimum of three weeks as it is, I knew we couldn’t do all of it. Well, not unless we can take two months off work and have lots of spare money! So, we stuck to Route 66. There will be other opportunities to see the others another time (maybe, if this one is successful, more road trips?)

Of course, we will be doing a few smaller things, such as going up to Milwaukee to visit the Harley-Davidson Museum (already got an invite), a two-day detour to see the Grand Canyon and another one/two-day detour to see Las Vegas (driving over the Hoover Dam of course!). We also plan to fit in a motorbike ride in Los Angeles, not all the way up to San Fransisco, but maybe at least to Pismo Beach.

We have a lot of ideas that we want to do along the way too, as you know, we will be doing this for charity; well, we have picked out at least four charities. One is close to my heart, one is close to Mozz’s, and the other two we both choose. Of course, I haven’t contacted any of them yet, as I’m still finishing off the itenary, and I have to sort out some personal things, but hopefully in the next few weeks, we can share! But we also have a few ideas such as little challenges or charity events on the route itself, one is even quite big, but again, I need to contact a particular charity to pull it off!

Although we have planned a lot of it already, not only researching where the old route goes, marking it on a map, what sites to see, what time of year to go, and so on. We still have a lot to do.

* We need to make sure we get the right visa; this isn’t just a tourist visit, we plan on filming and fundraising, this might not be suitable on a tourist visa,
* We need to work out the best camera equipment; do we spend a bit more to get a decent go-pro or will cheap action cameras be okay,
* What rigs will we need to set up cameras inside a car and on bikes/helmets,
* Maybe even microphones so we get a decent quality sound,
* We need to work out costs involved; visas, flights, fuel, car, insurance, food, side-trips, hotels, even the costs of bags, cameras, internet wifi dongle, subscriptions and software we might need,
* we also need to know which areas are American-Indian territory so we can respect their land (I plan on contacting the AIANTA – American Indian Alaska Native Tourism Association for this too),
* And lots more!

I still have yet to set up a YouTube channel, get it establed now and practice filming, editing and the like. I also plan on getting my social media verified, which is very difficult to do. And of course, around all this, I work full time and I’m trying to publish a new book and write a memoir.

So, now I’m going to get back to marking sites on my USA map after spending two days researching the route and marking it out, then hopefully, I can contact the charities and get the ball rolling!

Watch this space!

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I also recently had my hair cut off for charity! Read about it here!

thegirlwhowhispered.com

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6 Months in the Highlands – Thanks, COVID-19!

In one of my previous posts (here’s the link), I talk about moving to the Highlands. It was just a small ‘travel’ post really, with a few pictures, intended to be a precursor to future travel posts.

But it didn’t quite work out the way I planned.

And… I *might* be moving again!

Pre-Covid-19

On Feburary 24th, I had my first day at my new job – but it was in London. I travelled down to London from the southern part of Scotland where I had been temporarily living. I got to the hotel, realised it was the wrong one, so ordered a taxi to the correct one, and the next day was my induction training.

My induction training lasted two days; Monday and Tuesday, although I didn’t see much of London in that time, so no cool photos to show you guys (sorry!). By Tuesday evening, I was on a flight to Inverness.

Wednesday morning, I started my first day in the office.

I took with me, one medium/large suitcase, my laptop bag and a work laptop bag (which I collected from the induction day).

I have been living out of that suitcase for 6 months!

For the first few weeks, I had planned to get settled at work and get a feel for the area. Once I knew the best area to live, public transport routes (currently car/bike-less, don’t judge!) and how much I could possible afford, I was going to find a nice place to rent.

A few weeks in, I started looking at places, I viewed two flats, and contacted a lot more for other potentials…

Then Covid-19 hit.

Post-Covid-19

For the first few weeks before the UK was put into official lockdown, I was given the option to work from home, the last week before lockdown, I did. I found it cool and novel – I’ve always wanted a remotely working job!

Then lockdown officially started 23rd March. Shops started to shut (except for essential shops). People weren’t allowed out except for 1 hour exercise (this wasn’t set in stone, apparently, but it was ‘advised’ to limit to an hour). We had to have letters to say we were keyworkers if we got stopped by police.

I was classed as a keyworker, but was lucky that I had a company laptop so I could work from ‘home’. And, I was equally lucky that the host of the Airbnb I had booked was more than happy for me to stay with her until lockdown lifted. I pay her a small fee a month, instead of booking continuously through Airbnb – and it works out a lot cheaper.

The novelty of working from home wore off quickly. Especially since I couldn’t go anywhere! I was inside for work. I was inside on days off. Summer came, and I was inside for that too. The only time I could go out was for walks/exercise or shopping. That was the only time I could see bits of Inverness; the area I was really looking forward to exploring! When lockdown restrictions eased a little, I started to go a little further afield. Which is the next section…

University of the Highlands and Islands

This is something that is pretty close to where I have been living for the past six months. When I first moved, pre-Covid-19, I would walk through the grounds to get to the office. Post-Covid-19, I would either walk through to get to Tesco to do my shopping, or just go for a walk to get my hourly exercise.

Although it’s not exactly a destination to pack your bags to go see (unless you’re starting a course there!), it certainly is a lovely place to walk around when the sun is shining!

Culloden Woods and Battlefield

I went to Culloden Woods/Forest a few times, it was suggested to me by a colleague from work. I had no idea what to expect, I couldn’t find any information on it. But, to do something different to my usual walk around the University grounds, I went here on a day off instead.

First time I went, I was happily exploring; following the path, taking in the sights, smells and sounds, and I came across a sign that said ‘Culloden Battlefield Trail’. It didn’t tell me how far it was to the Culloden Battlefield, but I at least figured the walk might be intersting, even if I didn’t walk all the way there. But, I did end up walking all the way to the battlefield!

And, I was glad I went, as although I was only there for a little bit, it was a really interesting site. It’s the site where the Jacobite Rising came to and end in 1745. There is a visitor centre (which was closed due to the lockdown) which holds a cafe, museum and shop, there is an old cottage (Leanach Cottage), clan gravestones and memorial cairn (be careful not to walk on the grass on this bit, there are real remains there – I found that out afterwards and felt really guilty!) and then there is the battlefield itself with the different flags to represent the two sides of the battle, and there are markers dotted around with more information.

Second time I went, I visited more of the woods and forest, this time around it was really foggy and I got some really interesting shots in the fog.

Long walk to North Kessock

I add emphasis on the ‘long walk’ here, because I was out for six hours! I walked all the way from Cradlehall/Westhill, through Inverness City Centre, over the Kessock Bridge and into North Kessock and Craigton… then back again. I was sore for a few days afterwards.

Again, I got some really interesting shots. North Kessock is a lovely little place, right on the edge of Beauly Firth, I found a lovely little swing seat on the edge by some woods, there was a fog coming in which hid part of the Kessock Bridge. I saw a few sights walking through Inverness too.

Inverness Castle and the Islands

When lockdown started to ease, and the shops started to open, I decided to go back into Inverness to do some shopping. But the main part of my walk into Inverness was to see Inverness Castle! No trip to Inverness is complete without at least seeing the Castle!

Unfortunately, the Castle was closed, but not because of Covid, but because it’s undergoing some renovations, so I wasn’t able to go inside. When I get back to the UK after my contract abroad, and if I get my old job back in Inverness, I am looking forward to seeing it again, hopefully go inside this time!

As well as Inverness Castle, I also had a wander along the River Ness. A little further down is what’s called ‘The Islands’ or ‘Ness Islands’, which, as the name suggests, is a colletion of islands on the River Ness. There are a few bridges across them so you can walk along them, and they have a few trees and lights up along them (which I can only imagine look nice in the evening).

Motorbike Ride to Nairnshire

One day, I had the pleasure of catching up with an old friend from college. He was coming up for a tour of Scotland on his motorbike and decided to pop in to see me. He brought his spare motorbike helmet and we took a trip out to see Nairn, an area I had hoped to see when I first moved up, pre-Covid-19. And yes, I am aware there is still a Covid risk, but luckily he had already had Covid and had the anti-bodies. There was no risk of spreading.

We went to Fort George to begin with, it was closed, but we were still able to walk on the pebble beach and around the old Fort. We then got back on the bike and headed to Nairn Beach, where we wandered about, sat and caught up, had lunch and then headed back. We stopped at Sueno’s Stone – a 9th Century Picto-Scottish standing stone, Clava cairns and the viaduct close by.

My next adventure

I can’t talk too much about my next adventure. I have mentioned it a few times, so it’s not exactly a secret. But I don’t want to dedicate a whole blog post to it just yet, as it hasn’t been officially confirmed.

However, I will say; I was recently given the opportunity to go to anther country, with the company I work for!

At the moment there are a few issues with Covid-19; the borders being closed and, I have a few issues with my visa. But when things have been sorted, if I am still able to go, I will give you more updates!

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Touring America for Charity!

A few friends will remember that I had planned a trip around America and Canada for a charity. I was going to go to Canada first, find some work, save up, and then travel around, maybe even visiting other countries. All doing this to raise awareness and funds for a charity.

I was deadly serious about it too, I had bought my Working Holiday Visa to Canada, got police certificates for it, set up a page, I even got a few people invested, including a few celebrities – at least they shared my posts.

But, due to personal reasons, I had to cancel it all. And I felt defeated that I failed and let people down.

I was also met with a lot of negative criticism from friends and family. “Why don’t you do something smaller?” “Do you even have a plan?” I had lots of people think that I was just after money from them when I asked for support, but in reality I just wanted them to help share the word, to show that they were rooting for me and wanted me to succeed.

I lost friends over it. And I felt like I had proved them right; I failed.

I never stopped thinking about it, what I missed out on, the friends I lost, it still eats away at me. But I also never stopped believing that one day, I would do it! I’ve always been one with big ideas, and yes, a lot of times they don’t work out, but I also believe that people can do big and amazing things if they work and persist. And I want to be one of those that didn’t give up, and made a different!

So, I am planning it all again!

This time I plan to go to America on a food, bike and car tour, raising awareness and funds for charities that support world hunger, mental health and/or child abuse.

Most people know I love my cars, having tinkered with most of the cars I have owned, from basic maintenence such as services or timing belt changes, to going mad and stripping it for track. I also love my bikes, having wanted to get my bike licence for years but keep putting it off due to the costs. I love the naked, deep sounding Harley-Davidsons and Triumphs (the Triumph Bobber Black is on my Christmas list!)…and of course, who doesn’t like food?

As for the charities, mental health is extremely important to me, as I have had, and to some small extent, still suffer with mental health issues myself. I had selective mutism when I was a child (to read more about this, I wrote a post about it here), which caused no end of probelms growing up, even to this day it causes a few issues. I then developed depression and anxiety because of it.

And of course, stopping world hunger and child abuse are both important to me too.

For this trip, I plan to set up a YouTube channel to document it, setting little challenges for myself along the way, so that people can watch my progress. I plan to visit sites of interest, places like the Harley-Davidson Museum, the Bonneville Salt Flats of Utah, watch a Monster Truck show, try out an electric motorbike, eat at the best food joints, whether that’s street food, restaurants, maybe even try wild hunting, I plan to find the best roads to travel down – yes, Route 66 may very well be on the list, maybe even meet a few interesting people – I have a few in mind, if I can pull it off.

It’s going to be big, requiring a lot of planning and it’s going to cost a lot, I know that. It might not work out the way I plan, but either way, I plan on going one way or another. I have to.

I also may not be going alone. As I have been discussing the idea with a friend of mine who is also very interested in going. He’s a massive foodie and car nut himself, and loves America!

Planning might take a while, as there is a lot to sort, and I have just signed a 12 month contract with work (that’s a story for another day!), so I have plenty of time to plan, make contacts and save. I also have yet to get my bike licence! I also plan on getting a few sponsors, such as travel companies, bike/car companies, even clothing companies, if I can.

Either way, I am extremely excited to start off this new adventure, to visit more of America, experience new things, meet new people, and most importantly… make a difference!

I’m moving to the Highlands!

Hello my little demons,

Some of you may know that I have been looking for work, and it’s been a tough few months trying to get back on the career ladder. But this week, all my hard work has paid off!

And, what better place to move to? The Highlands!

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(c) All photos are my own. Copyrighted to myself, Penny Hooper. Photo above: somewhere in the Cairngorms, Scotland.

I took a little trip up there for an interview, and from where I currently am, it was a long train journey, yet I managed to do it within a day. But what a long day that was!

I set off early in the morning, got on the train, headed for Edinburgh first, had a quick train transfer and then up through the Highlands, arriving just before lunch time.

82453141_2912592158967058_2641919286683107328_n(c) All photos are my own. Copyrighted to myself, Penny Hooper. Photo above: inside the train, somewhere in the Cairngorms, Scotland.

The train took overall just over 4 hours to get to Inverness, where my interview was. I took some sandwhiches I pre-bought the day before, and a load of sweets to keep me entertained. I forgot my magazine I bought as I rushed out of the door to get my first train but luckily took my charger for my phone, so I could prepare on the train for the interview and just watching the world go by.

82220002_2912592265633714_4537422305847934976_n(c) All photos are my own. Copyrighted to myself, Penny Hooper. Photo above: Dalwhinnie Train Station, Scotland.

As the stops when by, I wondered what the areas were like, and wondered about the possibility of one day getting off at one of them to go explore. Aviemore is high on my list of stops, and Dalwhinnie was certainly a possibility, being a fan of the whisky.

When I finally arrived at my destination, I was there a little early. Giving myself enough time to get off, stretch my legs, have a quick look around if the weather was kind to me, have a tea-break and then find the bus to my interview.

81752257_2912592322300375_7767083402854924288_n(c) All photos are my own. Copyrighted to myself, Penny Hooper. Photo above: Victorian Market, Inverness, Scotland.

I headed straight to the Victorian Market opposite the train station, after doing a small bit of research into the area before hand. I figured that was the best place to find a range of cafe’s and it was indoors so I could escape the cold and/or rain when I get off the train.

It was smaller inside than I was expecting, but it was a cute little place. There were a few cafe’s inside, I found one where I sat upstairs in a little section and relaxed on a comfortable sofa for a few minutes with a pot of tea while googling where to get the bus from.

81877693_2912592472300360_8765863633629478912_n(c) All photos are my own. Copyrighted to myself, Penny Hooper. Photo above: Pot of tea at a Cafe in the Victorian Market, Inverness, Scotland.

After a long break warming up with a pot of tea and finding where the street is to get my bus, I decided to get up a few minutes early and go for a wander around Inverness, at least down to the River Ness as it wasn’t that far from where I was.

But as soon as I got out of the safety of the covered market, I realised it was raining – was a little difficult to know that where I was sat!

But I decided I had already made the decision to go, so I was going!

82181985_2912592582300349_1512224243658522624_n(c) All photos are my own. Copyrighted to myself, Penny Hooper. Photo above: River Ness, Inverness, Scotland.

The weather was terrible, it was freezing with a bitterly cold wind going through the town and it was raining. But I still managed to get to the river to have a very quick look and snap a few photos.

I didn’t stay there long though, as I decided to go back, see if there was an earlier bus or find somewhere else to go get a drink and sit down, or at least find somewhere warmer!

In the end I decided to just get on the bus and head to my interview.

I didn’t see much else of Inverness, I literally had my interview, got back on the bus and was lucky to get on the next train back home. I didn’t even stop to have dinner (I had a left over sandwhich I ate on the train!)

But, my hard work paid off… the long train journey and the cold Highland weather was worth it… I got a call the next Monday saying they’d like to offer me a position.

Now I’m just waiting for my start date so I can book temporary accommodation.

Keep an eye out for future travel posts from the Highlands!

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If you liked this blog post, please do check out my others:

Living in Australia – Part 2: My first Christmas away from my parents (Christmas Special!)

A small trip to Reading – Wokefield Mansion

Douglas, South Lanarkshire – A Hidden Gem

Living in Australia – Part 1: Breakup from hell and Brisvegas

Best places to visit in South Lanarkshire

Rose Garden Sanatorium – Chapter 5

Happy Birthday! But why do we celebrate?

Remember, Remember, the 5th of November…

The HALO Trust: Safe Steps – Challenge Complete!

I won! I came first in the Earnesty Writer’s Awards 2018 Paranormal Genre!

Website: thegirlwhowhisperedblog.wordpress.com

Social Media:

Facebook: www.facebook.com/thegirlwhowhispered

Twitter: twitter.com/penny_hoops

Instagram: www.instagram.com/thegirlwhowhispered_author/

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Living in Australia – Part 2: My first Christmas away from my parents (Christmas Special!)

Hello my little demons!

Sorry this Christmas Special is a little late, been a little busy lately. But hopefully better late than never, right?

If you haven’t read part 1 yet, read it here!

So, a small update before I begin which my Christmas Special blog post!

In 2009, at just 21 years old (ten years ago!), I went to Australia on a Working Holiday Visa. With my ex-boyfriend. It was both an exciting trip and a nightmare!

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Looking at the above photo of me (yes, this was on Christmas day!), you would think I was a happy person, but Christmas back in 2009 was horrendous.

It hadn’t even been a month into my Australian Working Holiday Visa yet I already had lost a lot of money, had a nasty break up with my boyfriend (I talk about this in my previous post), my relationship with my family in Australia was on edge and was now starting to question what to do with my life.

My ex and I had a small plan to build a new life in Australia, my Aunt and her husband had done just this, so we questioned whether we could too. But after finally realising the person he was, I knew that new and relatively young plan we had was crushed.

Now what do I do?

Over the Christmas period my mood was low, not only had I broken up with my boyfriend, I didn’t know what to do with my life, I was unknowingly suffering with depression and I was away from my close friends and my parents, whom I had never spent a christmas apart.

Christmas day 2009 was spent at the house of my Aunt and Uncle’s friends’, along with my step-cousin and a friend of his. It was a very hot day, as unlike the northern hemisphere where we hope for a white Christmas, Australia is in the peak of their summer. It was that warm that a couple of people took a dip in the pool.

Christmas 2009 016(c) All photos are my own. Copyrighted to myself, Penny Hooper. Photo above: A selection of prawns freshly caught for Christmas.

Christmas dinner was a BBQ, mainly focusing on freshly caught seafood, including some rather large prawns and playing a few silly games like this fun spin on Russian roulette which involved a plastic gun which would fire a pin into a water balloon

I remember having a phone call with the other side of the world with my parents at one point. I went off into the dark garden to take the private call and at the time feeling a little upset at the thought of what had previously happened, but then my parents opened the flood gates when they rang.

Luckily the day wasn’t a complete waste with my low mood and homesickness, I do remember a few laughs and good times. I remember my step-cousin’s friend disappearing and someone found him in a bedroom asleep. I took photos as my step-cousin and one other person started drawing something obscene on the side of his face, I remember him waking up and sitting down in the garden again, with a few people making puns, all the while he had no idea what was on the side of his face.

DSC00693(c) All photos are my own. Copyrighted to myself, Penny Hooper. Photo above: Secret santa present from my step-cousin.

I remember my step-cousin had me as a secret santa and had bought me a remote controlled lamborghini and I was extremely happy with it, not just having a cool gadget and a cool car, but the fact he knew me well enough to know I’d like it.

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(c) All photos are my own. Copyrighted to myself, Penny Hooper. Photo above: Side-show Penny.

I remember someone had the bright idea to stand underneath a hanging plant and looked like Sideshow Bob from the Simpsons, and a few others, including myself took part in this ridiculous photo opportunity.

I also remember someone bringing out their pet rat and I instantly fell in love.

So, although it wasn’t the best Christmas I’ve ever had, it certainly was one to remember.

Christmas 2009 048

If you liked this post, please do give it a like! And feel free to leave a comment!
~Penny (Aka The Girl Who Whispered).

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If you liked this blog post, please do check out my others:

A small trip to Reading – Wokefield Mansion

Douglas, South Lanarkshire – A Hidden Gem

Best places to visit in South Lanarkshire

Rose Garden Sanatorium – Chapter 5

Happy Birthday! But why do we celebrate?

Remember, Remember, the 5th of November…

The HALO Trust: Safe Steps – Challenge Complete!

I won! I came first in the Earnesty Writer’s Awards 2018 Paranormal Genre!

Website: thegirlwhowhisperedblog.wordpress.com

Social Media:

Facebook: www.facebook.com/thegirlwhowhispered

Twitter: twitter.com/penny_hoops

Instagram: www.instagram.com/thegirlwhowhispered_author/

www.instagram.com/thegirlwhowhispered_photo/

A small trip to Reading – Wokefield Mansion

Hello my little Demons! I’m back with another travel post!

Between the 6th and 8th of December I took a trip down to Reading for a job assessment, but rather than booking a cheap Premier Inn hotel, I decided to book somewhere a little different; The Wokefield Mansion, and make a little trip of it.

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Photography by Penny Hooper (c) Please do not copy / reuse without written permission from myself.

Wokefield Mansion

History

Wokefield Estate has been around since 1560 when the first house was built by Sir Edmund Plowden (1518-1585), an English lawyer, scholar and theorist. However, back then it was known as Oakfield Park.

Unfortuatenly the estate has seen many change of hands over the years, unlike many estates which have been passed down through the family over the generations.

It had also seen many changes, with renovations, gardens, new mansions and buildings being built, and even occupations, from being a family estate to a business (and not just a hotel!)

It had only been passed down through the Plowden family until 1627 when it was sold by Edmund’s grandson Francis and sold to the Weaver family.

In late 17th century it was sold again and went to the Pearces, and in the late 18th century it went to the Parry family.

It was Charles Parry who rebuilt the house in 1720 to the Mansion now seen (the Mansion in which I stayed the night). It is said that it was built to look much like Kinlet Hall in Shropshire (although I personally like the look of Wokefield Mansion).

In 1742 it was sold to the 1st Earl of Uxbridge, Henry Paget. But the 2nd Earl of Uxbridge (who’s name was also Henry Paget) sold the estate to Bernard Brocas (who owned the nearby Beaurepaire).

It is estimated that around this time, the estate was landscaped with avenues, woodlands and water, which can be seen on an old map of Berkshire made by John Rocque (a surveyor and cartographer).

Although Bernard Brocas passed away not long after he aquired the estate, the Brocas family enlisted Sir John Soane to make some ‘alterations’, although I cannot find what alterations were made in this time.

In 1839 the estate was put up for sale again, and went to Robert Allfrey.

In the early 1900s it was sold again (along with the rest of Allfrey’s fortune) to Alfred Palmer, of Huntley & Palmers, a british biscuit maker based in Reading.

Palmer undertook a complete renovation of the house’s interior which included Adamesque plasterwork and a wooden staircase screened by columns.

In 1936 the house was again sold to the De La Salle brothers, The Institute of the Brothers of the Christian Schools, and of course, became a school called St. Benedict’s Approved School.

In 1967 the house becomes a grade II* listed building.

The estate (totally the mansion and 35 acres) was then sold to Style Conference Limited, a leading corporate training centre operator. The mansion house was converted into a 60 bed conference and hospitility venue and opened mid 1986, the outwer buildings also being converted to provide a further 41 en suite rooms.

In the early 1990s the farm and a further 140 acres were purchased to redevelop the site, where a 18-hole golf course and driving range where constructed, along with two gyms (one small and one large), swimming pool and sauna where house in the mansion house, and other outdoor activities such as archery, climbing and ropes course.

In 1998 there were a few buildings and extensions demolished and redeveloped, and a new building built specifically for BMW.

In the 21st century it appears the history of the estate and the company that owns it becomes a little fuzzy, with companies changing and new companies being generated, but somewhere along the line the estate followed a more hotel orientated occupation.

In 2015, the Executive Centre building was damanaged by fire, which affected 100 of the hotel’s 222 total rooms, though the fire was contained within a newer part rather than the historic house.

My Review

I stayed two nights in a single room in the Mansion house, it was a small room, with a large single bed with a beautiful picture of a map of Berkshire hanging above the headboard, a large modern flatscreen TV on the wall, a lovely large ceiling window with single-pain glass, complete with very long and thick curtains that reached all the way up to the ceiling, there was a handy desk over by the window with details of the services the hotel offers, two bedside tables, one sporting a vintage style radio and the other a vintage style telephone. Although the vintage style of the room, it was also very well updated with USB charging points in the walls.

The room was also equiped with a large wardrope with a safe, mini fridge, tea and coffee with real ornate mugs, extra quilt and pillow and ironing equipment and the decorating was fabulous, with unique pictures of plant and flower diagrams, golf pictures, and old prints.

The bathroom was a huge shock, being nearly the same size as the main area, which was very mordern inside. A large bath with a shower over it, and large and clean sink and toilet, complete with large fluffy towels, bottles of shampoo, shower gel, soaps and a cute little De Vere Duck and more plant diagrams in frames.

The bed was extremely comfortable, probably one of the best night sleeps I’ve had in a while, and was very happy with the service I received both checking in and checking out a few days later.

Due to my long drive there, my very busy day the next day at my Assessment Day and the long drive back the next, I didn’t spend much time exporing the grounds or facilities, but I did have a small wander around on the last day before setting off early for the long trek back to Scotland. I was surprised to see there was a gentleman on a golf buggie collecting rubbish from the grounds and bins, and was very happy to see a little bug hotel near the carpark next to the Mansion house. The grounds looked excellently kept, all clean, well kept and beautiful and it was beautiful both inside and out, especially in the evening when the front was lit up with beautiful and tasteful lights.

I also spent a few minutes at check out speaking to the staff at the reception, after the guy found out about my profession and was thus very enthusiastic to chat and wished me a safe journey home.

Of course, there were a few bad points about the hotel, such that, when travelling down at night when it was cold and foggy, it was a little difficult to find the main entrance, and even on the estate, it was a little difficult reading the signposts and locating the car park. The hotel room was a little difficult to locate, the room was cold one day because the only heating was a large radiator which was tucked behind the large curtains and was left on low. The room was a little on the small side, having to squeeze past the bed and the TV on the wall, knocking it a few times by accident. I also wasn’t told where the bar, resturant or other services on the hotel’s estate were, even if I wanted to or had the time to experience.

A few other issues, such as the thin walls where I could hear my next-door-neighbour cough, the noise from the bar downstairs and the single-glazed glass window where all small negatives but easily acceptable given both the age of the house and the fact it is a listed building.

Despite the negatives, I would happily return to Wokefield Estate and stay again, aside from the fact I stayed because I had an Assessment Day to attend in the area, I felt like I had a little mini holiday and would recommend others too! Especially when my stay was only £71 a night!

All above photos are copywrited to Penny Hooper (c).
Please do not copy/share without prior written permission from myself.

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Also, I’ve noticed I’ve been getting comments from an outside source, this original post is from WordPress, original website: thegirlwhowhisperedblog.wordpress.com if you are reading this from outside of WordPress, please do let me know, I would love to know how far and wide my blog posts are getting and thank you everyone who has commented already.

If you liked this post, please do give it a like! And feel free to leave a comment!
~Penny (Aka The Girl Who Whispered).

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

If you liked this blog post, please do check out my others:

Douglas, South Lanarkshire – A Hidden Gem

Living in Australia – Part 1: Breakup from hell and Brisvegas

Best places to visit in South Lanarkshire

Rose Garden Sanatorium – Chapter 5

Happy Birthday! But why do we celebrate?

Remember, Remember, the 5th of November…

The HALO Trust: Safe Steps – Challenge Complete!

I won! I came first in the Earnesty Writer’s Awards 2018 Paranormal Genre!

Website: thegirlwhowhisperedblog.wordpress.com

Social Media:

Facebook: www.facebook.com/thegirlwhowhispered

Twitter: twitter.com/penny_hoops

Instagram: www.instagram.com/thegirlwhowhispered_author/

www.instagram.com/thegirlwhowhispered_photo/

Douglas, South Lanarkshire – A Hidden Gem

On one of my previous travel blogs, I talk about the best sites in South Lanarkshire, Scotland. One of them, I talk about the hidden gem that is the village of Douglas. I feel that this needs it’s own blog post as I have a fair bit to say about it and that short insert wasn’t enough.

Read on to learn about Douglas, with ties to the Douglas Clan, including Black Douglas, their links with Robert the Bruce, the Cameronian Regiment, PM Alec Douglas-Home, Sir Walter Scott, the Polish Army, even a little gem of a man James Gavin a local tailor.

Plus, it’s a hidden gem that I feel needs to be recognised more. But I also will be telling you both the positives and the negatives of the place.

Douglas, South Lanarkshire

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Remains of the 17th Century Tower, Douglas Castle, South Lanarkshire. (c) Penny Hooper.

Douglas is situated just off the M74, 40 minutes South East of Glasgow with a population of approximately 1600. It’s a small village many people drive through on their way to Ayrshire, usually without a second glance. A thorn you pass on Ayr Road, but without realising that thorn belongs to a rose (well, in some respects). Douglas has it’s name for a reason, which, if you keep reading, you’ll find out why.

Douglas is one of those villages where you will be greeted with a mix of emotions. If you’re driving through in the summer, before you get into the heart of Douglas, Ayr road will give you a view of the Douglas Estate ‘Ponds’ to your right (if you’ve just come off junction 12 on the motorway). A little further you will be greeted with outstretched branches of trees as if high-fiving you into the village. But when you get into Douglas,  you will be greeted with old dark buildings on your left, stepping back into an industrial era, with an old crumbling hotel that has been left derelict for years on your right.

You’ll be partly right, at one point in it’s life, Douglas was a mining town. But we’ll get to that.

If you turn off Ayr road on the right onto Main Street, before the petrol garage, following the brown signs that signal tourist destinations, you’ll be swallowed by more industrial buildings.

However, catch Douglas at the wrong time of year, and it can be cold, dark, wet and miserable. And, unfortunately, due to where Douglas is situated, in-land and not far from the Borders, this can be a majority of the year. But, we’re not here for the weather, are we?

James Gavin Monument

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The stone cairn commemorating James Gavin, Main Street, Douglas.
Source: http://www.clydesideimages.co.uk/war-memorials-lanarkshire.html

First stop, on the Main Street, just opposite the local shop there is a round monument dedicated to James Gavin. Gavin wasn’t a very well known person, at least not outside of Douglas. He was a local tailor, but when he refused to renounce his presbytarian religion he had his ears cut off with his own tailoring scissors before suffering a life of slavery in the West Indies.

Gavin was finally able to return back to Douglas and the monument was erected on the spot where the ruins of his house stood until 1968. The monument holds an engraved lintel with a pair of tailor’s scissors. It’s said the monument stands where Gavin’s backgarden would have been.

But if you keep going up Main Street there’s a little hidden secret waiting to be found, a little secret that upon first glance looks like an average site in Scotland, but this little secret has more than you think.

After finally escaping the burden of the old buildings, the road opens up. The buildings in front of you, a large Georgian stone building with a painted house one end and a smaller house with large windows is hiding a little church. This little church is St Bride’s Church.

St Bride’s Church

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Remains of St. Bride’s Church, Douglas. (c) Penny Hooper.

This little hidden gem doesn’t get nearly as much attention as it should. St Bride’s Church is one of the oldest, probably arguably the oldest building in the village, having been built in the late 1300s.

But the interesting thing about this church is that it is the mausoleum for the Black Douglases or Clan Douglas, who were friends with Robert the Bruce, Sir James Douglas in particular.

That’s because Douglas Village was the home of the Douglas Clan!

Most people would have heard of Robert the Bruce, even if you’re not a Scottish History buff. He was King of Scotland from 1306 until his death in 1329, a month shy of his 55th birthday, and led Scotland during the First War of Scottish Independence against England.

Sir James Douglas was one of the chief commanders during the Wars of Scottish Independence, and a friend to Robert the Bruce, so much so that on Robert the Bruce’s death bed he asked James Douglas to carry his heart to the Holy Land in Jerusalem to be presented before God. However, James Douglas was called to fight against the Moors and the heart went with him.

Robert the Bruce’s heart was eventually laid to rest in Melrose Abbey in the Scottish Borders, his bones in Dunfermline Abbey in Fife, and his internal organs buried where he died in Cardross, Dumbarton (which, I believe, was the practice after a death in battle).

Sir James Douglas and his company joined King Alfonso XI of Castile to siege the Kingdom of Granada, which was where James Douglas died. His heart was brought back to the mausoleum for the Black Douglases; St Bride’s Church.

Today, the grounds of the church are open and free to roam, nestled in between houses which were built around it over the years. But to gain access to see Sir James Douglas’s heart and inside the chancel, you will need to ask for a key. Unfortunately this rests on whether the keyholder is available when you are in the village.

It’s also rumoured that the clock face on the tower was a gift from Mary, Queen of Scots and is the oldest working clock in Scotland. Supposedly to chime three minutes before the hour, a reference to the Clan Douglas motto “never behind”. It still chimes every hour, although quieter than it used to, so as to not upset the locals, and it’s not always three minutes before the hour as the clock has to be continuious wound. It also still rings on Sundays to call the locals in the village to church, although service isn’t held in the old St. Bride’s anymore, but instead in the newer church up on Colonels Entry.

Continuing our historic journey through Douglas, right next to the church, on Bell’s Wynd is another hidden gem, an old Chapel; St Sophia’s Chapel, which is now a museum.

St Sophia’s Chapel / Douglas Heritage Museum

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Douglas Heritage Museum, Douglas. (c) Penny Hooper.

Originally, this building was the Dower House of the Douglas Estate (a large house available for the widow of the previous owner of the estate, who is called the “dowager”, she usually moves to the Dower House after the heir of the estate marries).

The building has had many uses over the years, in 1706 it was a Parish School, a century later it was used as a poor house for vagrants (beggers/homeless people), then it was reverted to being a house until 1961 when it was an Episcopal Church to replace the chaple in Douglas Castle. Now, since 1993, it has been converted into a museum which displays various aspects of village life, the Douglas family and Castle, and the Cameronian Regiment (more on that later). Exhibitions are said to change annually.

It’s located on Bell’s Wynd, with the front door opposite St Bride’s Graveyard. However, it is only open from 1st Saturday of April and closes the last Sunday of September between 2pm and 5pm. Weekends only. Or by special arrangement, much like St Bride’s Church.

There is an inscription above the entrace of the building, which was from when the building was converted as a school. It is in Latin, but translated reads; “This building is restored for the foster children of the muses under the auspices of the high and noble Duke of Douglas for the perpetual use of the School and Schoolmaster 1706”.

If you continue past the Museum, further up Bell’s Wynd, you will be greeted with a beautiful view; a view of a football field, the Douglas Water river and the woods up on the hill. To the left there is an interesting statue pointing up over the panaroma.

James Douglas, Earl of Angus Statue
and Cameronian Regiment memorial

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James, Earl of Angus Memorial in Douglas. (c) Penny Hooper

For any history buffs, you may have heard of the Cameronian Regiment. Unfortunately, I don’t know much about the Cameronian regiment so I can’t give you much background (and probably not enough scope for this blog to delve too much into it anyway), but from what I have found with researching this, the Cameronian Regiment was founded in 1688-1689 by the Earl of Angus, James Douglas, originally called the Cameronian Guard or The Earl of Angus’s Regiment, which, of course, was raised near Douglas Village.

It’s worth pointing out here that James Douglas, Earl of Angus shouldn’t be confused with James Douglas the Black Douglas as these were two very different people. (I hate to admit it, but it confused me at first! Clearly James was a popular name!) James the Black Douglas was born 1286 and died 1330, not quite an Earl of Douglas as the title was created for William Douglas (the 1st Earl, of course) in 1358. James Douglas The Earl of Angus was born 1671 and died 1692, he was from the Stewart family line (the Red Douglases) who inherited Douglas Estate after the fall of The Earls of Douglas. Ironically the 1st Earl of Angus was George Douglas (c. 1380-1403) who’s father was William Douglas, he had an affair with Margaret Stewart, Countess of Mar and Angus (he was married to the sister of her husband).

The name ‘Cameronian’ was originally given to the faction of Scottish Covenanters (Presbyterian movement) who followed Richard Cameron (leader of the Covenanters). Richard Cameron was killed in the Battle of Aird’s Moss, Ayrshire, in 1680.

The begining of the regiment actually began in 1688 when William of Orange landed in England to seize the throne from his father-in-law, King James II. James Douglas gave his support to William of Orange. Ten companies were raised from the supporters of Richard Cameron to form the ‘Cameronian Guard’. The Cameronian Guard, however, disbanded in March 1689.

But in May of the same year, it was re-formed under James, Earl of Angus, in Douglas. It was thus known as The Earl of Angus’s Regiment or the Lord Angus Regiment.

Around 1749, the Regiment was described as ‘The 26th Cameronians’. But in 1786, the titled was officially changed to ‘The 26th (or Cameronian) Regiment of Foot’.

In 1881 under the Childers Reform (reoganisation of the infantry regiments) the regiment was amalgamated with the 90th Regiment of Foot (Perthshire Volunteers) to form the Cameronians (Scottish Rifles).

In 1968, it was disbanded due to Government defence cuts.

The statue of James Douglas, or the Earl of Angus, in Douglas is to commemorate the raising of the regiment in 1689. It was build in 1892 to mark the regiment’s two-hundred anniversary.

A little further down the road, on the grounds of the estate there is also a memorial to commemorate the disbandment of the regiment.

Cameronian Regiment memorial
(Disbandment memorial)

If you travel out of the Douglas Village and towards the lakes (or Ponds, known by the locals), just past Stable Lake (which used to see curling many years ago, a few curling stones can be seen in the village if you’re looking for them) towards the Castle remains there is a little memorial sat up on the hill with a view of the river cutting through the land – the river that has a permanent cold wind following it!

This memorial compliments the previous memorial, with one commemorating the founding and this one commemorating the disbandment. The reason for it’s location is because the Cameronians was disbanded at Douglas Castle on the 14th May 1968 by the 14th Duke of Hamilton, and the then Earl of Angus, Douglas Douglas-Hamilton.

On the 13-14th of May 2018 (50 years to the date), the village held a 50th Anniversary for the disbandment of the Cameronian regiment, with an afternoon parade, buffet and more.

For more information on the Cameronian regiment and links to the Anniversary Parades (including YouTube videos), click here: www.cameronians.org

Cameronian Regiment Memorial (for the disbandment of), Douglas. (c) Penny Hooper.

Douglas Castle

Douglas Castle, you may have already figured out, was owned by the Douglas family. Again, my history isn’t great, so again this is information I have researched myself. Also, this will be limited to the Castle’s history, rather than the Douglas family line.

The first Castle was erected in the 13th century and may have been wooden or stone. But it was destroyed and rebuilt many times over the years.

During the Wars of Scottish Independence the castle was captured by the English, and given to Lord Clifford. However, Sir James Douglas recaptured it on Palm Sunday, while the garrison were at chapel attending mass. The surviving English were dragged back to the Castle’s cellar and beheaded, put atop a heap of broken wine casks and food stores and set alight. Douglas then had the wells salted and poisoned with the bodies of dead horses and the Castle burned. The massacre became to be known at ‘The Douglas Larder’.

By the 15th century, the Steward monarchy was threatened by the ‘Black’ Douglases and the Battle of Arkinholm began in 1455. Douglas’s forces were defeated, Douglas himself fled to England the Douglas Castle went to the ‘Red’ Douglases (The ‘Red’ Douglases of Angus and Fife). The Black Douglases had ended. It is believed the castle was rebuilt soon after 1455.

In 1703/1707, when Archibald Douglas was created Duke of Douglas, the Castle was rebuilt again as a tower house and encloused courtyard with a corner tower. In 1745 the Castle saw damage after a rebellion led by Charles Edward Stuart (‘Bonnie Prince Charlie’) and the Highlanders in Charles’ army, after spending two ‘wild days’ around Christmas. The Castle was later destroyed by a fire in 1755, with the exception of the corner tower (which can still be seen today).

In 1757 the castle was again scheduled to be rebuilt by the great architect Robert Adam into a grand palace, which would have been the largest in Scotland. However, Douglas died before it was completed. The Castle would have been a five story building with round towers to the front and square towers to the rear, standing in an extensive park that would have spanned the valley of the Douglas Water.

The estate was eventually passed to his nephew Archibald Douglas the 1st Baron Douglas after the ‘Douglas Cause’ (a legal dispute between the 1st Baron and the Duke of Hamilton).

In the 1930s, Charles Douglas-Home, the 13th Earl of Home, (the family line of the Prime Minister Sir Alec Douglas-Home) allowed mining of coal in the park, adjacent to the Castle, to help with the local unemployment. But this unfortunately lead to the castle’s demolishment in 1938 due to dangerous subsidence.

Today, what remains of the Castle is the 17th century corner tower, remains of a cellar block underneath and raised earth that could potentially be from the old road into the castle. A little further out, right next to the Cairn Lodge Services is the remains of the Douglas Estate Gatehouse.

In 1831/2, Sir Walter Scott published the 4th in his series “Tales of My Landlord” called “Castle Dangerous”, the last of his novels. This novel was inspired by Douglas Castle. The Castle sometimes is now refered to as “Castle Dangerous”.

Here are some old photos I managed to find of the old Douglas Castle:

Collection of photos sourced from multiple web sources, including Douglasdale Real Group Facebook Page.

It’s also worth noting that the reason why the first lake is called “Stable Lake” is because this used to be where the Douglas’s Stable used to be, which can be seen on one of the photos above. Unfortunately the Stable was also demolished, I wasn’t able to find any information on when or how, but I imagine they were either destroyed at the same time the castle was in the 1930s, or years before during the many rise and falls of the castle.

Polish Memorial Garden

On the 11th June 1940, the Polish Government signed an agreement with the British Government to form a Polish Army and Polish Air Force in the United Kingdom. Douglas was one site in which the Polish soldiers (around 17,000) were housed temporarily in camps along with Crawford and Biggar (nearby villages) before being more permanently based in Fife, Angus and Perthshire.

Three memorials were erected to commemorate the Polish Army, one square memorial pillar was presented to Douglas by General Stanislaw Maczek, Commander of all Polish forces in the UK.

In 2002 the other two monuments were moved to Douglas to create a Polish Army Memorial Garden.

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Polish War Memorial Garden, Douglas. (c) Penny Hooper.

Walks/Hikes

If you’re an avid walker/hiker like I am, there are many walks around Douglas, from the obvious walks around the Lakes (Ponds) and the river Douglas Water, to longer wooded walks up on the hills either side of Douglas. Of course, bring your decent walking shoes and a warm waterproof coat, Douglas can unfortunately be rather wet, windy and cold almost all year round. If you’re going for a walk up in the woods, you might even want to bring your wellies!

For any dog walkers, please be careful around the Douglas Estate, it is now managed by the Douglas and Angus Estate and there are many farm animals around. Sometimes the farm animals escape! On certain times of the year, Royals have been known to go shooting in the grounds too and there is a house up past the red bridge. There are a few signs up near Stable lake that ask you to keep your dog on the lead. If you walk up on the wooded walks either side of Douglas, which can be a lot quieter, dogs are welcome off-lead, but be weary of farm animals in farm land near and the occasional horse rider and motorbike/push bike. Also be aware that these woodlands are usually logging sites.

Of course, you can’t avoid at least a small walk around the lakes if you’re visiting Douglas, it’s where some of the historical sites are! Up past the Main Street and towards the grounds of the Douglas Estate, you will go past the Polish Memorial Garden on your right and over a cattle grid. Stable Lake will be on your left, and if you continue up towards the end of the lake there is a small and rather muddy car park (if you can call it that). Follow the tarmac path around the hill and you will see both the Cameronian Regiment memorial of when it was disbanded and the remains of Douglas Castle.

When you get to Douglas Castle you can either go left towards the red bridge or right following the path around. You can follow the latter path towards the lake behind Castle Douglas which will mostly lead to farm land or double back towards Stable Lake.

The path left at Castle Douglas, over the red bridge, will lead to a house, but if you continue past it you will get to two gates. The gate straight ahead will lead you through farm land, which you are welcome to walk through just be weary of the farm animals and the gate on the left (which is usually quite muddy) will lead up through the woods. The walk up through the woods, if you follow the path at the top to the right, can eventually circle back round (past the M74 motorway), but the path to the left will follow along the hill at the top which you can follow all the way to Douglas West.

Somewhere up on the walk through the woods there is a small circular stone monument of sorts, it looks like an old sundial or henge, but I wasn’t able to find any information on it.

Not far from Douglas West is the old Railway tracks that used to be for the coal mining in the 1900s, the tracks are no longer there, but you can see where the line used to be, with the odd old bridge across it. This line appears to follow Douglas Water and past Glespin where it curves off.

Up round this way, there is a large windmill farm too, which I’ve heard is open to the public to walk around and has some spectacular views over Douglas and the surrounding areas.

On the other side of Douglas, crossing Ayr road, there is also another wooded hill which is suitable for general walkers/hikers, dog walkers and bikes. Known by the locals as Paigie Hill.

Paigie Hill is famous with the locals, as it’s a Douglas tradition to walk up the hill on the 2nd of January, usually just the men (although the women have their own walk, free of the men). It started 30 years ago when just a few men from the village decided to ‘blow away the New Year celebrations cobwebs’. But in 2013 68 men took part.

You can get there by walking down Springhill Road, which leads up a track past a farm as loose stones guide you up. When you get to the tree line, you have a choice of continuing on or turning right.

The path up will lead you past the treeline and up on the hill. As Scotland has a law called “Right to Roam” you are welcome to wander on this barren hill, which has a few views around the landscape where you can see for miles.

The path on the right will follow the hill through the trees, the majority of this is usually fairly clear of mud until you decide to wander off the track. Along the way there are little tracks that you can explore which I believe are for push bikes, but can be explored on foot, some are labled with yellow painted carvings in the trees or beer cans that have been cut and stapled to the trees. The path does eventually lead down the hill towards the A70, if you follow the path a little way past the tree line you can follow it to the right towards a farm house, and down towards the local cemetary, the road right will lead past the local School and back into Douglas.

It is also possible to turn off left when you get to the top of Springhill Road, one grassy/muddy path will eventually lead to an area which has a large tent made up and a very basic swing seat that looks over the view of the hill, but be careful if you have a dog, last time I was there there there was a little bit of broken glass.

There is also word that Mainshill near Douglas will also be redeveloped, it’s an old coal site and will eventually have a woodland including paths for pedestrians and cyclists and a carpark.

Collection of photographs of walks around Douglas. (c) Penny Hooper.

Douglas Wildlife

As well as the usual farm animal (mostly sheep, but some beef cows and of course the Highland cow just outside the village!) and horses that lives in the village, there have been many wildlife spotted in the area, from the common birds like Jackdaws, Dunnocks, Blackbirds, Robins, to the more uncommon such as Oyster Catchers, Spotted Flycatchers, Sandmartins and Whooper Swans. I also have heard a Tawny owl calling one evening.

Buzzards are also pretty common in Douglas, as they are in most parts of Scotland, having been dubbed the ‘Scottish Pidgeon’ for a reason. Even Sparrowhawks have been sited, in areas around Douglas Red Kites and Peregrine Falcon’s have been residents. It was also even rumoured that the very rare Osprey has been spotted in the area.

Other animals, as well as birds have been spotted, such as mice, badgers, foxes, deer and even weasles. I also wouldn’t be surprised if pine martins also live in the area and maybe even wildcats since they were introduced to Scotland.

A collection of animals photos, (c) Penny Hooper. (c) Adrian Hooper.

Douglas is a film set!

Only a few years ago, in the Summer of 2017, a film crew decended upon Douglas which was received with mixed emotions from the locals.

This film crew, Mammoth Screen, closed off roads, mainly the Main Street, to film part of the Agatha Christie’s Ordeal by Innocence three-part drama, aired, eventually, in April 2018.

Ordeal by Innocence had a cast of Bill Nighy, Catherine Keener, Matthew Goode, Eleanor Tomlinson, Anthony Boyle, Ed Westwick (although due to sexual assault accusations, his character Mickey Argyll was replaced by Christian Cooke), Luke Treadaway, Morven Christie, Crystal Clarke, Ella Purnell and Alice Eve.

The filming saw a small facelift to the Main Street of Douglas, with the Cross Key’s Pub been given a new lick of paint, two flats being turned into temporary shops complete with boxes of vegetables and homeware tools outside and a number of old vintage cars parked along the road. Of course, the temporary shops were dismantled and the cars disappeared, but the paint on the old pub remained (with a few minor tweeks for the landlord).

Not all the cast of the three-part series was seen in Douglas, unfortunately Bill Nighy wasn’t spotted, however, Luke Treadaway and Crystal Clarke were prominent stars on the Main Street.

The mixed reception with the locals was split between those in favour of Douglas gaining popularity (especially the local busineses such as The Cross Keys who got a new face-lift and The Scrib Tree), and those who had to endure the filming going on into the early hours of the morning – luckily it was on a weekend!

The three-part series was originally scheduled to air at Christmas, but due to the sexual assault accusations surrounding Ed Westwick at the time, the release date was pushed back and eventually aired at Easter in April 2018 with Ed Westwick’s scenes redone. Due to insufficient evidence, the case against Westwick was dropped.

Recently, another film crew decended upon Douglas once more, filming a few shorts in the St. Bride’s Graveyard and a small alleyway on Main Street leading to garages. Luckily the film crew had packed up just after night fall, but clearly the area is picking up popularity between the film industry! However, not much was said of this film crew, it’s unsure what the filming was for.

Collection of Photos from the Agatha Christie’s Ordeal By Innocence filming.
(c) Penny Hooper.

Where to eat and drink?

Douglas has a few places to drink, from the two pubs on the Main Street, The Cross Keys Inn and The Countryside Inn and a cafe which has just been granted a licence to sell wines and spirits; The Scrib Tree up on the Ayr Road.

On Ayr Road, there is also a recently opened Bakery where the old Post Office used to be, up by the entrance to Main Street is a local Indian takeaway and behind the Crossburn Services there is another little cafe; Crossburn Kitchen Cafe & Take-away. There are also a few other shops, including a local newsagents, which sells everything from your newspaper, milk, to cool drinks in the fridges.

Unfortunately the old Douglas Arms Hotel has been closed for many years now, after having been driven to dispare. There had been rumours that it had been bought in the last few years, but so far it has been left untouched. Which is a huge shame, as if this hotel could be brought back up to scratch and with the right marketing, the area could have a huge boost in tourism.

The Cross Keys Inn (known as ‘The Keys’ by the locals) is an old pub on the Main Street. It sells many drinks, from beers, ales, wines and spirits, and has a few TVs which air Sky Sports, At The Races and BT Sports, all can be watched by the old crackling open fire or a round of pool on the pool table near the back.

They occasionally have live music (TheWORDS, Billy Crawford, Midtown Riot, Hooch Hounds, Bracken and Losferwords), which can be very busy with the locals of Douglas and the nearby villages.

Unfortuantely, however, the pub doesn’t sell hot food as there is no kitchen available, but it does offer the odd crisps or pork scratchings!

The Countryside Inn is the other pub in Douglas, having been taken over by new management in the last few years, which not only is a place to drink, but also has a restaurant which can seat up to 50 people. The Inn also has a large function room for parties and weddings.

The Scrib Tree is another nice little place, selling mostly coffees, cakes and small things for breakfast and lunch. However, there have been a number of great reviews for their food. With freshly made soups and speciality sausage rolls and scotch eggs!

http://thescribtree.co.uk/home

Where to stay?

Unfortunately there aren’t many places to stay in Douglas, the only ones I were able to find were the Holiday Cottages on the Douglas Estate.

Click here to go to the Douglas Estate Holiday Cottages.

I was also able to find one property on lastminute-cottages.com, but it doesn’t seem to be available to book at the moment.

Otherwise, I would recommend staying somewhere outside of Douglas, such as the New Lanark Mill Hotel (another great area to visit in South Lanarkshire) or possibly somewhere in the Borders, such as Biggar.

Click here for the New Lanark Mill Hotel.

Getting Around

Douglas is one of those areas that is ideal if you drive. If you don’t drive, and you’re relying on public transport, be prepared for very limited means of travel around the area, especially getting to Douglas!

Unforutnately there is only two bus services that goes to Douglas. There is a Whitelaws bus that goes to Douglas from Lanark, the number 259 (to Glespin) which goes through Rigside, Sandilands (occasionally) and Kirkfieldbank (occasionally), which can be caught from Lanark Bus Station. It takes approximately 40 minutes, depending on what route it takes (whether it goes through Sandilands and Kirkfieldbank or not).

There is aslo a number 9 bus (Stuarts Coaches) which does the same route but runs on weekends and week day evenings when Whitelaws doesn’t run.

Here are a few useful references to websites for more information:

Douglas History
Douglas Clan
Black Douglases and Red Douglases
Douglas Castle
Sir James Douglas “Black Douglas”
General Stanislaw Maczek
Cross Keys Inn, Douglas
The Douglas Heritage Museum
Douglas Paigie Walk

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My Brother’s in Thailand, Blogging!

Hello my little Demons (it’s a new thing I’ve started, just roll with it…)

So, I was thinking about writing another blog post today, and I was wondering what to write about, Part 2 on my Australia blog? Blog about my books? Write a book review? Or maybe another chapter of one of my books?

But then I realised I should probably give my brother a helping hand. He’s recently set up a blog himself, a travel blog (he’s the reason why I decided to start a Travel Blog section myself) and I know how difficult it is to get traffic through on a website/blog/etc so this is a shout out to my brother!

Here’s the link to his blog:

A Krabi Life

Currently he’s blogged about best places to see in Krabi, religious sites, hidden gems and the best time of year to go, and I’m looking forward to seeing more soon!

He also has a Facebook page and an instagram account, both updating on blog posts and posting pictures of Thailand (I’m not jealous, honest!)

Facebook

Instagram

We both have a love of travelling, having been to Thailand a number of times with our parents, and my brother having going back a few times since we’ve outgrown our family holidays.

He has since met a lovely girl out there and has decided to move there!

Krabi is a beautiful area of Thailand. I’ve been to a few places in Thailand; Bangkok, Phuket, Pattaya, and Krabi was definately the prettiest I’ve been too. I mean, just look at this photo (my brother’s photo):

hang nak hill pano

Also, if you’re in the area (Ao Nang, Krabi), check out the N-Joy Bar, it’s owned by my brother’s friends and currently managed by his girlfriend Khai, who also has a coffee shop just outside called “Khai’s Coffee”.

https://www.facebook.com/pages/category/Cocktail-Bar/N-Joy-bar-662038240879513/

I’m looking forward to the day I can afford to go back out and visit my brother and Thailand again!

~~~

Please don’t forget to check out my social media, website and other blog posts!

thegirlwhowhispered.com
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Blog posts:

Living in Australia – Part 1: Breakup from hell and Brisvegas
Both my books are currently 99c!
Best places to visit in South Lanarkshire
Ender’s Love – Chapter 1
My RAF Cranwell experience – It’s beginning!
The HALO Trust: Safe Steps – Challenge Complete!
New Full Book Trailer! For Rose Garden Sanatorium