Made a quick stop at Bradford and Huddersfield enroute towards Manchester (from Leeds). I was particularly impressed by the architecture of Huddersfield Train Station.
Designed by the architect James Pigott Pritchett and opened in 1850, Huddersfield station is near the town centre and the cultural hub of St George's Square, with the nearby retail centres, restaurants and Victorian architecture all within easy reach.
A Grade I-listed building, the station underwent a £1 million refurbishment in 2009, and as a result, it won the Europa Nostra, an award for outstanding European Architecture. Huddersfield was also one of poet John Betjeman's favourite early railway stations.
From Loch Ness, we arrived at Inverness and unfortunately, we had only one day to spend in this city. Interestingly, one of the key highlights was to go to the various grocery stores and supermarkets and marvel at the affordability of vegetables, salads, meats, eggs, milk, cheese, beer, cider, wine, toiletries... almost everything! I like to alternate between dining out and buying back food (either to cook or ordering takeaway to eat-in), and for Inverness, we found a large Aldi right opposite where we were staying. Hence the evening was microwaved food, cider and Disney+.
For the following day, we drove around Inverness and decided to take a walk around Ness Island. Because the weather was just right (ample sunshine + cool breeze), it turned out to be a nice stroll. Many people were also out and about, taking advantage of the sunshine, and there were many dogs running around and even going into the water around the small island.
From Inverness, it would be a drive along the northern coast, passing Nairn, Forres, Elgin and more, and making quick stops along the way. Elgin Cathedral was one of them. Due to the nature of the roads in this region, I couldn't drive at a higher speed, and by the time we reached Bow Fiddle Rock at Portknockie, we decided to drive straight towards Aberdeen instead to save some time. I was amazed by Bow Fiddle Rock though, which was this impressive sea arch resembling the tip of a fiddle bow.
From Carlisle, we made a detour to visit the Robert Burns House at Dumfries. Robert Burns wrote many poems and songs in his lifetime; with some of the famous ones being "Tam o'Shanter", but the song that everyone should know would be Auld Lang Syne. Unfortunately, we arrived too early and the house was not open. We loitered around a little bit and because it was getting chilly, we decided to continue onwards.
Since we were at Dumfries, we decided to stop by Dumfries House. The Dumfries House was currently maintained as part of the Prince's Foundation, and occupies over 2000 acres of land. We walked around the main house and the lovely garden. The weather was great and there wasn't really many people around, which certainly help to add points to my enjoying the walk around the area.
From Dumfries, we made a few other short stops, such as Cumnock, the coastal town of Ayr, Prestwick, Troon and Irvine before heading towards Glasgow in the late afternoon. The weather was turning rainy, so we quickly checked into our accommodation and settled down for the evening, since we had another few more days to explore Glasgow. I've been to Edinburgh before, and this was my first time to Glasgow. While the weather wasn't really kind during my stay in Glasgow, I do like Glasgow and find it a city that I would like to explore further. There were many interesting precincts to explore, and oh boy, there was so many large murals to see~
From Glasgow, we originally wanted to drive straight up to Inverness and move back southwards to Loch Ness, but our car host told us that it would be cool to drive towards Glencoe to see the scenery, landscape as well as to go to the "Skyfall Road". While this wasn't something I was planning to do, it sounded like a mini adventure. Also, after doing some map-plotting, it seemed that it was a more direct route towards Loch Ness via Glencoe. It turned out to be a right choice, as the drive in the Glencoe area was really nice. Because we drove up gradually into higher altitudes, we saw a change in the landscape. It kinda reminded me of a greener version of Iceland (expansive landscapes with no trees in sight). This ended up being the most picturesque drive for the entire trip.
On the other hand, Loch Ness was nothing to shout about. There were several lochs, with Ness being the most famous one. And nope, I didn't see any sea creatures (lol).
Thought I'll do a journal about my Scotland trip (July to Aug 2022 period). It takes time to organise the photos and write about the trip, so I will do it a bit at a time (and time's so hard to find as always). So we arrived at Manchester, got the car and then quickly got on our way. First quick stop was Preston. As the weather wasn't fantastic, we got out of the car and took a quick sweep of the city centre area centered around the Harris Museum, Art Gallery and Library before driving off towards Carlisle.
Along the way, we made a visit to Lancaster Castle, which was a free-entry medieval castle in Lancaster, Lancashire. Again, the weather wasn't great, but it didn't stop a wedding couple and their entourage from celebrating and taking photos at the castle. In fact, during the 18th and 19th centuries, until the Bankruptcy Act of 1866, Lancaster Castle housed between 300 and 400 people in the debtors' prison at any one time. Apparently the prisoners had their last meal at the Three Mariners pub before heading towards the castle, so we decided to have our lunch there as well.
Another quick stop along the way was Brougham Castle. Founded in the early 13th century, it was used as a formidable barrier against the Scots invaders and welcome Edward I in 1300. Unfortunately, part of it is in ruins.
The first rest stop for the trip would be Carlisle. We walked around Carlisle and found ourselves in Carlisle Cathedral. Carlisle Cathedral is the second smallest of England's ancient cathedrals and has a long and turbulent history. It started life as a Norman Priory Church in 1122, becoming a cathedral in 1133. When we visited, there was music playing in the cathedral (tubular bells?) and was welcoming indeed.
The city of Carlisle is not too big and walkable by foot, and everything closed early by about 6pm. The early history of Carlisle is marked by its status as a Roman settlement, established to serve the forts on Hadrian's Wall. Carlisle Castle was built in 1092 by William Rufus, which explained the name of the Wetherspoons that we visited, aptly named "William Rufus" lol!
From Bilbao to Santiago de Compostela
The Northern Spain trip was one that was taken during the COVID-19 pandemic storm. 2020 hit all of us with this dark swan event, and grounded literally the entire world. In 2021, with some semblance of normalcy creeping back to some tourist destinations, it was time to make plans for some careful travelling! Hence this trip to Northern Spain.
As usual, many photos were taken during the trip, but I'll try to insert those 360 photos that I've consistently taken and posted on Google Street View. Enjoy!
First stop (after checking into the hotel) was Guggenheim Museum at Bilbao. At it was getting late, we reckoned that we will take time taking photos, and enjoying the cool yet sunny weather instead of going into the museum.
Actually the view from the nearby bridge is the best as it provided an expansive view of the museum. If you walk along the bridge, you can see the various light reflections off the Museum exterior, giving the museum a very interesting sheen. Due to the fact it was the COVID-19 period, there were not many tourists at this area, making it a nice walk around the museum, the surrounding park as well as along the river bank. The first day was a short one due to jetlag.
We then took the funicular (Funicular de Artxanda) up to the lookout area, called the S. Cook Bilbao Lookout. This lookout is famous for the red "BILBAO" characters which are obviously popular with the tourists. While the hill is not very high, it still offers a view over Bilbao city (not too many skyscrapers fortunately).
While looking for a place to eat, I read the reviews and decided to head over to Cafe Iruna to try their tapas and drinks. The Café Iruña located in front of the famous “Jardines de Albia”, was inaugurated on July 7, 1903 by the great Navarrese promoter Sir Severo Unzue Donamaría. We arrived a little too early (remember lunches start very late here in Spain), so we had tapas and drinks before settling for their value-for-money lunch set.
We had meals at a few really nice restaurants, such as Restaurant Alameda (at San Sebastian) which offers menu with local and seasonal products, and they have held a Michelin star for over twenty years. We also tried Arzak, a 3-starred restaurant focusing on traditional Basque cuisine by Elena Arzak, who was named best chef in the world by Veuve Clicquot. Nevertheless, I think that dining is not always about the stars, and homely restaurants and cafes can be a joy to dine in. A case in point is Hidalgo 56, a nice cafe-restaurants serving pinchos at San Sebastian.
Another interesting part of the trip was driving all the way into the mountain areas (lots of curvy turns) to this place called Fuente De, where you can take a cable car up to the mountains, with snow walks and amazing views. This is also a stop for hikers who want to spend a few days hiking in the snowy mountains.
If you are a fan of Gaudi, then you would want to include this stop as part of your trip. El Capricho de Gaudi. El Capricho is one of the few projects completed by Antoni Gaudi outside of his native region of Catalonia and produced a summer villa for a wealthy donor based in Comillas, Cantabria, Spain. One interesting aspect of this design is that Gaudi decided upon a different shape of roof than he would normally use, due to the different weather and climate conditions of this area close to Santander in Northern Spain. His normal consideration was, of course, Barcelona, and so in this case he demonstrated an understanding of the implications of working in a different part of the country. It's a great stop for 1 or 2 hours.
At Santander, one of the main highlights would be Palacio de la Magdalena. It was built in 1909 to house the Spanish Royal Family. There were some local tourists visiting the place as well, and as with the previous stops, we were the only Asian folks doing any visiting. (We did not see any Asian travellers until we reached Santiago de Compostela.
Gijón or Xixón is a great stop for the Northern Spain trip. The city itself has this nice bay-beach area with underground parking. There were so many locals who were bringing their dogs out to play. The humans-to-dog ratio here is incredible! Generally, if you are visiting this city, you will also be making the stop to Oviedo which is quite nearby.
Another really quick (morning) stop was Ribadesella. a small town in Asturias along Spain's northern coast. As we arrived on a Sunday, everything was closed and there was no one around. We managed to find a pub-cafe place which was open for a quick bite before taking a few photos and then going on our way.