GREY DAY TO GRETNA GREEN
We woke to another grey, wet, windy morning – no surprise there then!
I found it hard to sleep last night with thoughts of being parked up at the base of a huge hydro-electic dam the water crashing from the outlets and roaring close by Thebus windows. The layby was just big enough to take us and allow the door and steps to open without impinging on the flow of traffic. So when the big lorries went past on our side we were sucked and buffeted about by their wind drag. Plus the gusting wind continually pushed us about. So we were rocked to sleep, not as in the tender gentle arms of a consoling parent, but rather by one who is nearly at the end of their tether and is just about holding it together during the rocking process, when in fact they would much rather – at that particular instant – throw you out of the window.
The traffic wasn't continual but when it did come past it came at speed. So what with the roaring water and the traffic and rocking I just couldn't get to sleep. So I turned on the light and read for a bit. I thought I would have a good look through a guide book I had bought over the internet. I had bought imagining it would be full of overnight stopping places at farm shops, vinyards and the like, so I had visions of pulling in onto large easy access car parks, stocking up with the best of the local produce, maybe having a snack at the on-site restaurant and then spending the night out in the peace of the open countryside.
In fact it is in the main, pub car parks. Which in my admittedly limited experience of pub car parks, are normally pretty tight on the both the access and parking, and as yet I am not sure how comfortable I will be eating alone in a pub. And unless you get there late and want to stay up till after closing time its going to be pretty noisy. So on the whole rather disappointing. Next time I have a sleepless night I will count the percentage of vineyards, craft shop, visitor centres and farmshops, compared to public houses. I wonder if it will send me to sleep faster than counting sheep.
I dozed off probably sometime before midnight to be woken at about a quarter past by a car driving full speed and tooting loudly. I presume full of youngster in high spirits delighting at the thought of waking some sleeping travellers. I didn't mind – I expect there is not all that much to do in the way of entertainment for the young folk. They were probably going for fish and chips, or possibly deep-fried Mars Bars at the nearest town as they must have returned a couple of hours later with the same passing serenade.
So it was probably about threeish before I was properly asleep, to be woken by the first pair of early morning lorries at five thirty. And as I say to a cold, wet, grey, windy day. In the gloom of the early morning I could see our surroundings. We were in countryside not dissimilar to that on the Hereford Worcester main road. Slightly rolling hills with wooded crests, and sycamore and oak along the river bank. They were at least affording us some shelter from the wind, which was so strong that although the river was a fast flowing one, there were waves being blown across the flow towards us. The rushing, crashing water noise was not from a vast hydro electric dam, but from an obstruction of large rocks and boulders across the river at this point impeding the flow, and presumably encouraging the more adventurous to attempt a crossing by jumping from boulder to boulder – hence the warning on the sign when parked up.
There was nothing but fields and woods and trees on our side of the river and a little, almost ruined stone built stock shelter in the corner of the lush field on the opposite side of the road. And over on the far side of the river I could just make out the slated roof of a small farmsteading tucked in amongst some woods in the distance. I made some tea and sat about in the vague hope that the weather might lift a bit.
It didn't and I decided to press on. Within less than a mile we passed another pulling in place far better than where we had just spent the night, and in fact passed a total of six in six miles. After that they appeared every half mile!!!
We climbed out of the river valley and onto some open moorland type farming, though the roads were bounded on each side by low stone walls. I can't imagine they would have kept any animal worth its salt in, so I presume they were built to show where the road might be in snowy weather. As we dropped a bit the farmland improved, then rose a bit and back to moorland. I passed two walkers in the middle of nowhere, zipped up in their cajoules and plodding on into the teeth of the wind and felt rather cosy and cossetted inside Thebus.
The roads were pretty narrow but there was not much traffic and when there was it mostly seemed local folk who were not in a tearing rush, so though the road twisted and turned the driving was fairly relaxing even in the rain and wind. Phoebe seemed much better and was dozing in her bed.
I did notice that there is generally no warning regarding bends. I suppose they would have had to order so many signs saying Sharp Bend Ahead, or Sharp S Bends Ahead, or Bends for Half a Mile, that the annual council budget would have been spent. Or is there perhaps a sign when you enter Scotland saying Bends for 600 Miles, and I missed it.
The sharp bends aren't too bad if you are going uphill at the time, but it can be a bit hairy with something the size of Thebus when you come to a particularly sharp bend on a very narrow bit of the road and you are needing to brake going down hill as well.
I certainly scared quite a few of the sheep as we went along and they scampered away in alarm. Perhaps it was Thebus stripes and lights as we certainly weren’t the only large load around, I have seen lots of lorries fully loaded, somtimes possibly overloaded with hay and straw, I presume purchased from further South and travelling north for lambing time. And I saw something I haven't seen for many years now. Traffic lights to allow the milking herd to cross the road to the farm, but that was on the busy A 76.
We went on this way in the rain for quite a while then an urgent beep informed me we had run out of LPG. Thebus runs on petrol but he has had an LPG conversion. This means he starts on petrol and once the engine is doing whatever it should be doing it switches over to LPG/Autogas automatically. If the gas runs out he goes back onto petrol again so its not a real disaster. But Autogas is around 70p per litre which is not far off half the price of petrol, and though it is not quite so efficient on mpg, as Thebus only does around ten miles to the gallon every little helps. This jaunt up to Ayr has proved rather expensive, and its annoying as I will have to return almost immediately if I am to get to the far north for February.
The Tom Tom was supposed to be programmed for LPG stations, but if it is I can't make it work properly, and though I have joined an internet site for the same thing, for some reason that won't work for me either. Nothing for it but to phone back to Signature who had recommended that specific site, and ask if they could access it and give me the postcode of the nearest fuel station with Autogas. Yes – that was fine there was one in Dumfries where I was currently headed.
Now I am not sure if Dumfries is particularly full of narrow streets with sharp right hand turns, or if Strict Lady thought I could do with some manoeuvring practice, or whether perhaps I had annoyed her in the last twenty four hours and she saw a chance for revenge, but we went through a series of the most tortuous backways through the town centre. It was around Saturday lunchtime so there were normal number of folk who had taken a chance of a quick stop on the double yellows which added to the fun of it all. When I had looked at the postcode on the map the garage had looked easy to get to. Whatever, once more it proved a test to both my driving skills and my nerves.
I think that maybe what Phoebe is picking up on, as she was panting and looking worried by the time we finally pulled in. Even the entrance to the filling station was the wrong way round and had to be
approached by a 360 degree turn round a mini roundabout!
There was no-one there to help, so I was on my own in filling the tanks, but I was ok once I could actually get the filler out of the holder in the pump. Why is it that the bit which should be the easiest is sometimes the hardest. Although the tank was empty it only took 100 litres, but when I got back in the gauge only registered three quarters full so perhaps the pumps are set to only deliver 100 litres maximum. I will have to find out about that.
We then returned, though managing to get in at least one circular tour of the town centre of Dumfries before Strict Lady eventually relented and directed me to the main road towards Carlisle, when I was told to drive straight ahead for thirty four miles and she off went for another lie down. I wished I could have done the same, but at least the road was easier to drive with the actual carriage way now being wide enough for Thebus.
On the way up I had passed Gretna Green and would have like to have stopped but was too worried about the driving. However in the last twenty four hours my confidence had improved by leaps and bounds and I decided to give it go.
The approach was not bad at all, and when I finally parked up at the now HUGE site surrounding The Old Blacksmiths Shop it turns out there is parking for sixty coaches as well as cars and motorhomes. They even have a dedicated lounge for the coach tour drivers and operators, In summer it must be absolutely heaving, but today I was the only vehicle in my part of the car park and there were just a few cars further up.
It is quite a complex now with a Food Hall, though selling mostly the obligatory shortbread, dundee cake and marmalades with tartan screw tops. A vast shop selling tartan kilts and scarves and throws, and anything else at all you could possibly make out of tartan, and another few shops selling similar items, and of course lots of whisky.
As I wandered through this retail maze, though I have to say quite tastefully done and immaculately kept, I saw a bi-coloured vintage Bentley with bridal ribbons and thought it was part of the 'wedding' themed display. Not a bit of it. There was actually a wedding going on inside. I didn't even realise as I threaded my way though the museum bit and wondered what the crowd at the end were so interested in. There was a sign saying no photos of the ceremony, but I did get one of the piper in full regalia waiting to pipe them out to the Bentley which was their bridal car. Quite a lovely surprise for me to hear them giving their vows.
I wandered back down to the lonely end of the carpark, festooned with signs everywhere saying No Overnight Parking, and for some reason it just occurred to me to ask if I could be cheeky and stay. It was a long way to walk back, especially if they were going to say no, so I looked up the phone number. The nice girl who answered said, she thought it wouldn't be a problem though she was in the hotel part – yet another branch to this huge single family concern – here since 1888 according to the writing on the toilet wall. No – not that sort of writing but a very nicely done collage of the family history together with all the family wedding photos from then to the present day. I would have liked to take a picture, but felt a bit silly photographing a toilet wall
I was worried that just asking the hotel receptionist might not be sufficient, so did make the effort to go back to the Smithy, but by then it was closed for the day. Passing another member of staff, she also said it would be fine, so I decided to chance it. I suppose in the summer if they allowed it the place would be overun with motorhomes staying for days at a time and jamming the parking spaces. Or perhaps I just looked harmless. Whatever I am parked up in front of what promises to be a splendid view if the weather just clears a bit.
I bought a wildly expensive, but very tasty piece of roasted salmon from the shop, plus black pudding and Scotch pancakes for another Scottish breakfast, I already have the bacon, eggs and tomatoes, and they obviously couldnt get tartan packed mushrooms so I will have to do without those. And another bar of Tablet. I think I am becoming addicted to this lovely Scottish food......