Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Bank Holiday Weekend - Scotland

A day at work before going on holiday always drags, no matter where you are going or how long for. For me this time, it was a Thursday. The extended bank holiday weekend (thanks to the Royal Wedding and Mayday) was the setting for a weekend break 22 years in the making - I was going to Scotland, the country of my birth. As a family, we left when I was about 18 months old and for one reason or another, we hadn't been back. However this long weekend, that would all be changed. We were staying in Dumbarton, which is the nearest town to Helensburgh, and Alexandria - where we used to live and where I was born respectively. All I wanted out of this trip was to see bits of Helensburgh (like the old family home and generally the area around) and to see the Vale of Leven hospital in Alexandria, where I was born.

After finishing work on the Thursday, we started the long drive up to Scotland. The journey is about 465 miles which wouldn't have been possible to do all of on Thursday night (well, safely anyway) and doing it all the Friday would leave very little time to do anything. We drove from Portsmouth to Warrington Lymm Services Travelodge (not far from Manchester) where we spent the night. The room was a fairly basic Travelodge room, and I spent the night on the mattress which comes underneath the couch in a family room. I maintain they are more comfortable than the beds, but they look disgusting. The morning consisted of breakfast in Costa and getting back on the road.

The journey to Scotland on Friday was painless, and involved driving down some stretches of motorway which were surrounded by fantastic scenery. It was very nice to see and led me to declare that "my country of birth is nicer than yours!" Finding the hotel was fairly easy really, and we learned that the hotel was less than 3 months old. We checked into the rooms (I had my own room this time) and got settled in. I'll say this, Premier Inn rooms are far far better than Travelodge rooms. The journey up consisted mainly of listening to the Royal Wedding. I had previously said that I wasn’t interested at all in the wedding, but it was good listening to it on the radio. We stopped at a service station which had it on in their “casino” which had a massive crowd. Strange how you get sucked into these sorts of things.

After getting set up in the rooms and booking a table at the neighbouring pub for dinner, we ventured into Helensburgh. We decided to do all the sight-seeing I wanted to do on the Friday, as it wouldn't take long and we had half an afternoon to kill. It was really nice for me to see these places. We went for a walk along Helensburgh seafront which was nice as the weather was nice. We looked at the little funfair that was down there and saw the most embarrassing "Roller Coster". I'm not sure that's a thing but apparently it is (the spelling error was painted on the rollercoAster). We drove down to where my dad used to work which had changed quite a lot. We passed "Peace Camp" which is essentially a commune of people protesting nuclear weapons (the HMNB there has the nuclear subs I'd guess). We later learned that usually there is only one person living there at one time now to look after the place. We went back to the hotel for dinner, where the pub had a fish & chip buffet on. Unbelievably unhealthy but very nice at the same time - battered fish & sausages, roast chicken, mince beef pies and of course, chips (with plenty of curry sauce on the side). Fantastic. After the meal, me and my dad sat in the pub where I got nicely drunk on Tennents and Belhaven. A really good end to my first day in Scotland.

Saturday started very well, in that I didn't have a hangover! The plan for the day was to visit a couple of cities that my parents used to visit when they lived in Scotland. Before that though, we went back to Alexandria as there was a shopping centre which we weren't sure if it was open or not that we wanted to visit. From the outside, it looked like it had been closed for a little while. However it was open (it was just an old building). There wasn't much going on in there. The inside of the building was very nice (old marble staircase looking great). We visited two shops and moved on, with the next port of call being Stirling.

The drive to Stirling was great, in that the scenery was beautiful. There was a lot of countryside which just looked nice. We didn't see much of Stirling other than the town centre but it was a decent town centre. Much better than the one in Portsmouth. We visited a cafe for a drink and a toilet stop. The toilet in this place was miles away (which considering the size of the cafe, was quite surprising). After killing a bit of time strolling around, we moved on to Glasgow.

Glasgow is a fantastic city to visit. The only thing that I was told about it is how amazing the buildings are. This is very true - the architecture is fantastic. There are some really old buildings and some really new buildings which somehow blend together so that neither seems out of place. Another thing worth noting is how big the city centre is. It reminded me quite a lot of walking round certain parts of London. The main difference from London though to be fair was how clean the city centre was. I was quite surprised at this, considering I live in a much smaller city than Glasgow, which is nowhere near as clean. From the bits I saw, Glasgow seems to be a great city, and I am really glad we had the chance to go there. It was also kind of cool seeing some of the gig venues which I’ve seen in tour listings. Glasgow has about 5/6 gig venues that I know about, which really makes it appeal to me. As the day drew to a close, we looked for a curry. I’d heard of a famous curry street in Glasgow which we didn’t find. We then went to Dumbarton to look for one, which was unsuccessful. Then went to Helensburgh and found an alright one called CafĂ© Lahore. I’ve since spoken to someone from work that is also from Helensburgh who said “I’d never eat there” but it was fine. Strange as it might be, I judge restaurants on food quality, and this place was alright. A small stroll later, and we headed back to Dumbarton to the hotel.

The Sunday was meant to consist of two things, going to Loch Lomond and seeing a friend of my mums. This plan changed late on Saturday to visit Antartax Village, then go to Loch Lomond, then go see mums friend. The Loch Lomond bit of this day didn’t happen. We went to Antartax with the intention for a little mooch before leaving. We ended up staying there for nearly 5 hours. We started off with a breakfast there which honestly would put Wetherspoons to shame. It was delicious (and the first time in many years that I’d eaten fried bread). We then looked around the clothes (I was instantly drawn to the kilt section). One thing I noticed about this place was the amount of suits they were selling. Transpired any suit, regardless of marked price, was being sold for £50. So then the hunt was on to find a matching suit set which fit. Unfortunately for me, this did not occur (although I did get some nice trousers for £15 each). Wading through all of these suits took most of the time and we left just before 1. Without the time to go to Loch Lomond, we headed back to the hotel room before being picked up. We spent the rest of the Sunday at mum’s friend’s house. I wasn’t overly keen on going at first as truthfully, I didn’t travel 465 miles to spend time with someone who I didn’t really know. However, it was a really nice afternoon/evening so I’m glad we did go. I guess it is nice to know someone if you are going somewhere. Anyway, we got a taxi back to Dumbarton, and crashed out in the hotel for the last time.

Waking up on the Sunday was slightly painful as I was slightly drunk the day before. However when turning on the TV, I was greeted with the news that Osama Bin Laden had been killed. That was quite something. Funny how a major news story dominated the journey up to Scotland (the royal wedding) and how one would dominate the journey home. The knowledge was fairly limited early on (which might seem somewhat obvious) but the news channels reported everything they knew. Anyway – we head off on the road and I took in all the Scottish scenery I could, knowing that when we got back into England, it wouldn’t be the same. It actually was quite nice as we drove by the Lake District. We stopped at a farm shop where I grabbed another haggis pie. The drive from there was fairly uneventful, and the scenery just wasn’t a patch on Scotland.

All in all, the jaunt to Scotland was fantastic. I am so glad to have finally seen some of the things I’ve seen. The scenery in Scotland, especially on that drive to Stirling, is beautiful. I will go back again in a heartbeat. I jokingly talked about moving there – but if I could find a good paying job, I would go.

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