Thursday, 12 April 2012

The Actual Trip: Day 13

Hello from Worthing! Yes, I made it home just after midday today. Not a great deal to report, other than the already known fact that the A259 is very long and not very fast.

Started the day nice and early and set out down through Deal and on to Dover. Always a great view coming down the A2 into Dover as the road sweeps out over the port. Onto the A20 towards Folkestone and good progress was being made. Round Folkestone I think I just about followed the route and then it was onto the A259 for about 90 miles. A road of varying quality, highlights include squeezing down the main road in Rye, the inexplicable hairpin at Winchelsea and two level crossings across the same bit of railway line in the space of a mile. After all that fun I got to Hastings.

Hastings was ok, and not too busy. Until the end of the seafront that is where it was a slow and constant traffic jam to the other side of Bexhill as the police had closed the road through Bexhill itself. Took ages. Was fairly quick after that though and I can't tell you how tempting the turning for the A27 at Pevensey was! However, I remained on our dear old friend, the A259. On to Eastbourne where it was again a bit busy and then the best scenery of the day as I headed over the downs to Seaford. All was then quite straightforward through Newhaven and Brighton and onto Shoreham and Lancing. I cannot believe that the roadworks at the traffic lights at Brooklands are still going on, but hey, there was my final traffic jam. Oh, apart from the work on the traffic lights in West Worthing; gonna enjoy then when I'm back at work next week. Slightly amazed, I ended up back where I started at the Shaftesbury Avenue traffic lights, and then home.

So there it was! A smidge over 3500 miles, 13 days and a fantastic time was had. Certainly lots of memories : ) Some thank-yous:

  • Citroen, for making my car which served me so well.
  • Travelodge, for providing cheap accommodation almost everywhere.
  • The Imperial Hotel, Fort William and The Nethercliffe Hotel, Wick, for providing accommodation where Travelodge wasn't.
  • The people at Sabre who suggested that someone could do this.
  • Absolute Radio, for keeping me entertained.
  • BBC Radio 2, for when I couldn't pick up Absolute Radio.
  • Most importantly, my family, friends and anyone else who has been following my travels and reading my rambles!

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

The Actual Trip: Day 12

Hello from Ramsgate! Well, that was an... interesting day. Lacking in scenery a bit, but it did mainly contain the Essex south and Kent north coasts, not well known for their fantastic views. Ramsgate is nice though, looks a bit like someone took Brighton, re-arranged it a bit and put it in Kent instead.

Colchester Castle
The day started by heading south from Great Yarmouth. First major place was Lowestoft where there was a long wait while the swing bridge on the A12 was in use. Seriously, the main road down the Norfolk/Suffolk east coast has a swing bridge on it; I do despair at the state of some of the parts of our road system. Anyway, the A12 improved as I got towards Ipswich which actually does have a bypass and a very good one at that. This involved the Orwell Bridge, which was very high but not actually possible to see much from.

It was then down to Colchester on what was a rare instance for today: a minor A-road. Went into Colchester to have a look around. Saw the castle, some nice gardens and lots of people. Eventually found my way out again and it was back onto the A12 charging towards Chelmsford, and then the A130 towards Southend, again both major trunk routes. Came off the A130 just north of Southend and it was about now that the worst rain I've experienced all week appeared and then followed me intermittently all the way into Kent. After what seemed like an eternity I made it through Southend and back onto the main A13 towards London.

Next up was a quick diversion through Grays and Purfleet, then back onto the A13 to get the the A282, or, as most people probably refer to it, the M25. Was very hungry by this point so stopped at the services at J31 for lunch. Ate my lunch, popped into the service station to use the loo, then went back to my car. A lady pulls up in a car next to mine, and is saying "excuse me" as to get my attention. So I wind down the window to see what she wants. She winds me a yarn (in an Irish accent) of how she's driven over from Reading to visit her very ill mother in hospital but left all her money and cards at home and needs some money for petrol to get home. Could I lend her some and she'll send it back to me? Now, while I believe I'm generally regarded as a nice kinda guy, I wasn't born yesterday. Also, while I wouldn't normally wish to make assumptions about people of certain ethnicities (in this case Irish) in particular counties (Essex), I had a bit of a feeling this lady wasn't of a particular honest nature. So I declined. She then drove off and headed the wrong way down the car park, rather than, say, to the exit, or, say, into the service station to contact a relative of someone who might be more help than a random stranger... I later recalled an incident back when I was at university when a similar lady (possibly the same one) stopped in the main street in Virginia Water (hardly a busy place) and made a similar request to me regards a mother in hospital in Dartford. Hmm.
Ramsgate Marina as viewed from
my Travelodge Room

Mildly entertained I headed across the QEII bridge, paid my final toll, and took the first exit to head towards Gravesend. Was very impressed with all the shiny road signs directing me, got to see lots of HS1 and Ebbsfleet International Station, which I believe is meant to be like a Park and Ride for Eurostar.  It was then on to Gillingham, which had an amazingly good road through it which even had a tunnel under the Medway for added fun. It was then on to the A2, which, while this bit of it only having been the A2 since roads were classified in 1922, was once the Roman road known as Watling Street. Quite impressive to think the road I was travelling on had existed in some form for at least 2000 years. At some point between then and now someone had put a gas main under it, specifically in Newington High Street. Guess what was therefore being dug up and where the road was closed for this to happen? So off I went following the diversion which included one of those "single track roads with passing places if you're really lucky" that I've mentioned before. I was following a tractor though, so was alright.

Having returned to the A2, it wasn't long before it was onto the A229, which some people appeared to have mistaken for a racetrack. I missed my turning for Whitstable so didn't do that bit of the route. It was only signed as the road I was looking for (the A2290) at the last moment at which point I was in the outside lane passing a van while a Jaguar was trying to climb in the boot, so braking suddenly didn't seem wise. Made it to the A28 in one piece and headed into Margate before working my way around to Ramsgate.

Last bit tomorrow. A259 here I come!

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

The Actual Trip: Day 11

Hello from Great Yarmouth! Or at least the very outskirts of Great Yarmouth where the Travelodge is. That was a surprisingly long day. About 280 miles, but as a lot of it was on rural roads I expected it to be quicker. But then again I failed to realise that going through lots of seaside towns during the Easter holidays when it is actually fairly nice weather was going to be slow. Especially Skegness.
The Humber Bridge. Really Big.

The day started with the walk back to the car park that I had left Cicelia in. At least it wasn't raining this morning, in fact it was rather sunny. Off I headed down the A165, popping in and out of Filey and Bridlington. An uneventful trip down to Kingston-upon-Hull, but the traffic was heavy in Hull itself. Onto the A63 along the north coast of the Humber and the Humber Bridge loomed large. Very large, for it is the 5th longest suspension bridge in the world and until 1998 was the longest in the world, then the Japanese built a longer one and there's been a few more in-between since. Stopped at Barton on the other side to take some photos. I can now claim I have been over the 4 longest suspension bridges in Britain (Humber, Forth, Severn, Tamar). For those that care, the longest road bridge in Britain is the Second Severn Crossing (though it isn't a suspension bridge), followed by the QEII bridge (tomorrow), the Forth Road Bridge (yesterday), the Tay Bridge (day before yesterday) and then the Humber Bridge.

Having got lost trying to get out of Barton, and then lost again when the road I wanted to use in Barrow was closed, I finally made it to Grimsby, which was actually ok and not that grim really. Through Cleethorpes and then it was a long drive through lots of places ending in "thorpe", including the seaside town of Mablethorpe which was quite busy. Now, for those unfamiliar with this part of Lincolnshire it is really really flat. Think Belgium meets Holland meets parts of East Anglia and you have a good idea of how flat it is. That did not, however, prevent the roads from twisting around all over the place and having some silly tight turns. Finally I made it to Skegness, which took at least half an hour to get through and I stopped at a layby on the A52 for lunch.
Hunstaton Beach. The tide was really far out.

Onwards to Boston, which yes, really does need a bypass. (Look up the travails for the Boston Bypass Party for more on that one). Then finally the roads seemed to realise that this bit of Britain is really flat and went in long straight lines pretty much the whole way to King's Lynn. Avoided going through King's Lynn in the end as once again the road I wanted to use was closed. It was then on to Hunstaton for another break and I gave in to the urges to go visit a beach. From there it was a very, very, very long and drive round to Cromer with lots of small villages to squeeze through. Had a good game of "how close can I get my car to that brick wall" with a lorry in one village. After what seemed like an eternity (though the scenery wasn't bad) I made it to Cromer and then it was more straight wide roads down to Great Yarmouth. Had to go through Great Yarmouth to get to the Travelodge, but I got here in the end!

A shorter trip tomorrow, though it seems to feature masses of dual carriageway, which will be quick at least...

Monday, 9 April 2012

The Actual Trip: Day 10

Hello from Scarborough! I'm very pleased to say I only took one wrong turn on the route today, though got very lost once I got to Scarborough and had to firstly find the Travelodge and secondly find somewhere to park near it. Bit of a grey day as well, wasn't too bad in places but got very wet this afternoon.
Three Bridges across the Tweed in Berwick.

Started the day by heading back down the M90 and into Edinburgh where I met up with a couple of very good friends who live there. Was lovely to see them, could have stayed in Edinburgh all day but unfortunately I had the small matter of another 230 miles to drive. Edinburgh was surprisingly easy to drive around, though I did forget which floor I had parked on at Ocean Terminal and therefore got lost in the car park. Still appearing to be in Golf Course Land I did a lot of hopping on and off of the A1 through various villages before heading back in to England and stopping for lunch in Berwick.

After lunch it was an easy drive down the A1 and then the A1068 towards the towns and cities of the north-east. This all started off quite gently, though the traffic was quite busy in places as I was going through a lot of seaside towns and despite the weather people were still doggedly going to the beach. Found my way to the Tyne Tunnel ok and then headed off towards South Shields. It was around here that I got in the wrong lane at some traffic lights and had to turn around to get back on the route, but with all the twists and turns of the route today I'm pleased that was the only wrong turn.

I then had a break just outside Whitburn at a place called Souter Point. This was one of those gems of a place that I've found on my travels; lots of parkland above the cliffs, a lighthouse, lots of wildlife (well, sea birds of some sort) right between two big cities. Was lovely, if a bit damp still. It was then into and through Sunderland which was yet another place with a roundabout fetish. A short blast along the A19 and then if was back towards the coast and Hartlepool.
Souter Lighthouse north of Sunderland.
Very bright even with the light off.

The weather had taken a turn for constantly raining by now, rather than just the showers of earlier in the day. Seemed to go through a lot of housing estates in Hartlepool and then a large area of heavy industry. I decided at this point that as it was getting on a bit and the weather wasn't brilliant that I would skip the Transporter Bridge at Middlesbrough, even if it was open which I'm not sure it was. So I bundled my way back onto the A19 across the Tees and then onto the A66 towards Redcar.

One of the great things I have found about this journey, and I would guess therefore a great thing about Britain, is how you don't have to travel very far to get a complete change of scenery. So not long after the industry of Middlesbrough and the housing estates of Redcar it was back to little nestled villages and the stunning views of the North Yorkshire Moors National Park. A right old rollercoaster of a road too, though in a good way. Through Whitby and it was then onto Scarborough, with its many one way streets and Travelodge with no nearby parking (that was available anyway). But I made it nonetheless.

One thing I have realised is, despite one of the main aims of my journey to be to visit lots of places I had never been before, that so far every day I've been through at least one place I have been before. I was going to claim that Day 11 was going to be the only day where I had never been to any of the places I was going and then remembered that I had once been to Hull...

Sunday, 8 April 2012

The Actual Trip: Day 9

Hello and Happy Easter from Dunfermline! The longest drive of the trip was today (384 miles) and despite Bing thinking it would take 11 hours, I did it in about 8 and a half. Probably something to do with the lack of traffic, what with it being Easter Sunday and all. I'm finding that the Bing predictions on journey times are very accurate for town driving, but seem to assume an average speed of about 45mph out of town. I can assure you, I was averaging a little bit more than that on the A9 this morning!
The view from the A9

I'd actually been the only guest staying overnight at the Nethercliffe Hotel in Wick, which felt a bit odd. I felt a tiny bit guilty about getting other people up on Easter Sunday morning to cook me breakfast, but then again I was paying them for it. What with a cooked meal beyond the quality of a fast food restaurant looking unlikely for the rest of the day I filled up on a hearty cooked breakfast to keep me going.

With a full tummy I headed off down the A99 and A9 towards Inverness, taking in the scenery at 60mph. The hundred and a bit miles from Wick to Inverness was therefore covered in about 2 hours, with a brief stop for some photos. There are some great bridges on that road and even a couple of hairpins for good measure. First stop was in a layby just beyond Inverness, which I hadn't realised was a stones-throw from Nairn which actually had a car park and probably a bit more to see than some fields.
Probably as good as the weather got today.

The next 2 hour stint was along the north coast of that bit of Scotland that sticks out on the east coast. Went through Elgin, which had about 6 more roundabouts than necessary and around the new bypass of Fochabers. It was then along to the seafront at Buckie and the wonderfully named Portknockie. By the time I got to Banff I noticed a dramatic change in the scenery: everything was looking far more flat. It was almost East Anglian, and actually not very exciting to look at.

Lunchtime occurred at  Fraserburgh, where it was raining. Now, I always like to try to be positive about the places I'm visiting, and I'm sure the people who live there think it's quite nice and make an effort to pretty it up, but Fraserburgh was just a bit... depressing. Perhaps not helped by the rain and half the shops being shut while the other half were boarded up, but really. To be fair, it surely must suffer a bit from its geographical location; it's not somewhere anyone would have to go through to get to anywhere else, unless you're me.

After lunch I was heading south again, through Peterhead and down the A975, a great bit of road with a bridge across the really wide River Ythan. On to Aberdeen, where, yes, I got lost a bit as I hadn't been clear enough to myself in my directions. Back onto the A90 dual carriageway I was soon at Stonehaven where I turned off onto the A92 towards Montrose. Stopped just after Montrose as I hadn't been able to see any signs in Montrose for a car park; perhaps they don't have one. From here the drive did become a little bit of a slog if I'm being honest.
Lunan Bay by the A92.

Down to Carnoustie I was in golfing territory, and it was then along to Dundee with a brief highlight there of the bridge over the Tay. Through more golf courses it was then on to St. Andrews which oozed with history and an air of royal love stories. And then it was just a lot of dawdling about along the north coast of the Firth of Forth eventually getting to Kirkcaldy. Beyond there things were a bit more exciting with views across the Forth to Edinburgh, and of course much admiring of the Forth Rail Bridge. Would have stopped for photos but it was getting late and I needed the loo!

Got to Dunfermline and the end of the route for today at about half 6 and was expecting to charge up the M90 to the Travelodge. However there were roadworks and a 40mph limit for the entire stretch that I was using, so I ambled at moderate speed. Tomorrow is a much shorter drive, but the longest list of directions for the entire trip as I make my way back into England once again.

Saturday, 7 April 2012

The Actual Trip: Day 8

Hello from Wick! Well, I did it, I drove round the north coast of Scotland! The weather wasn't great though, and quite foggy in places but still was a lot of fun.
The A832. There was a lot of it.

The day started with a huge diversion. You may recall my comments about the A890 at Stromeferry having been closed for months due to a landslide. Well, they have set up a sort of huge level crossing so that traffic can go along the railway line, but, only at certain times. Not being familiar with the area I wasn't sure I could get there for one of those times, and with the gaps between them being 2 hours I decided to play safe and take my alternate route, which was no longer and still let me do the bit I really wanted to do; i.e. Ullapool to Wick.

Away I went up the A82 alongside Loch Lochy, Loch Oich and Loch Ness (no monster sightings I'm afraid). Ended up almost at Inverness on the east coast, which is the only alternative to the A890 really. I didn't worry about keeping to the road nearest to the west coast as that involved a lot of faffing and adding a lot more time to the journey than I had planned for with the original route. Traffic was very light and the first stop was at a layby on the A832 heading back west again.

It was then a long long haul around Wester Ross, the scenery that I could see was great. Weather wasn't too bad at this point, a lot of drizzle really, but the cloud hid most the mountains. Made my way round to Ullapool for lunchtime. Bought lunch from Tescos as I didn't want to walk far in the rain and it was next to the car park. Yes, Tesco really are everywhere; passed one in Thurso and picked up petrol at the big store just outside Wick.
Ullapool, or, as the check-in options on
facebook would suggest the locals call it, Loopallu.

Next came the best bit. Further north I went, with my route conveniently signed as the tourist route to John O'Groats. The signs also told me it was 170 miles from Ullapool. After a place called Laxford Bridge the road quality really deteriorated with mile after mile of single-track road with passing places. And sheep providing slalom. Wasn't aware of the sheep issue until I had earlier come over a hill at 50mph and seen one standing in the road in front of me. Between an emergency stop (in the rain) and the sheep seeing me and running away (clearly more intelligent than pheasants) said sheep survived for another day. Saw many more of them in the road after that, but realised that once they noticed you they got out of the way, if not always very quickly. They did seem to like standing on and by the road though as if there wasn't acres upon acres of other places they could have been.

I ended up behind a minibus for the first bit of "single track road", which I was quite happy to do as he was making good progress and could see further down the road than me. Then he decided to let me pass, despite the fact that I had sat well back from him. Felt it was a bit silly to say "no no, you go first and spot the other vehicles for me" so went on ahead. It was ok though; would have helped if more people had had their lights on, especially when it started to get foggy. Having had Radio 2 on most the day (you'll recall I don't have my MP3 charger, and my usual choice of station, Absolute, wasn't being picked up) I lost the signal once I got to the very north. In fact the only 2 stations I could get were Radio 1, and a station playing heavy rock, punk, metal etc. so I went with that.
Some road engineering to appreciate.
The A838 across the Kyle of Tongue.

After what seemed like an eternity, I reached a bit of two lane road again and was heading towards the Kyle of Tongue. After the village of Tongue there was once again a lot of single-track road with passing places (and sheep), but not for quite as long as before. Then, all of a sudden, I was out of the mountains and away, through Thurso, right at John O'Groats and down to Wick.

Traffic was very light all day, partly the weather, partly just because there really aren't that many people living in this part of Britain to create traffic. Took about 7 and a half hours, about an hour quicker than predicted. Starting the long drive home tomorrow :)

Friday, 6 April 2012

The Actual Trip: Day 7

Hello from Fort William! Can't believe I'm over half way through my journey now. Had a really good day today, though the weather could have been better. For the first time I can report that the journey was shorter than expected today, only took 6 hours rather than 6 and a half. Roads were very quite in places though, but lots of holiday traffic on the main routes.

Dumbarton. There were signs up suggesting the place
 I had parked flooded at high tide. Thankfully it wasn't high tide.
Started the day by heading north out of Ayr. The route involved a lot of faffing on and off the A78 through places like Irvine and Androssan. The highlight of this bit of the journey was probably the sign for Bogside. Stopped just after Largs to take some photos looking across to Bute, weather was still a bit iffy. Round through Gourock and Greenock it was somewhat obvious there's an election on from all the SNP signs attached to the lamposts. Next up was the Erskine Bridge, not the easiest to get to without using a motorway. It's pretty huge though, so not hard to miss and certainly isn't one for those afraid of heights.

First break of the day was at Dumbarton, which was very nice. I seemed to making depressingly slow progress by this point; not sure what I was worrying about really though. It was then on up through Helensburgh and passed HMNB Clyde, the home of the UK's nuclear deterrent. Needless to say, it had some very unfriendly looking fencing around it and I thought it best not to stop and ask where they keep the nuclear wessels. Alongside Loch Long and the road quality really deteriorated. I commented the other day on how impressed I was with some of the road engineering in Wales. Well, the A814 alongside Loch Long wasn't so much engineered as someone just laid some tarmac on top of whatever was there before. It was like a mad rollercoaster, even at 35mph. And the loch lived up to it's name.

Lochgilphead. Weather here was typical of most the day.
Eventually I turned onto the A83 and Cicelia's suspension let out a sigh of relief. The route headed away from shore through Argyll Forest Park and over the mountains. The views would have been epic, but it was poring with rain and the hills were all hiding behind the clouds. It was then a long run down Loch Fyne with the weather gradually improving. Spent a lot of time behind a couple of horse boxes before finding a suitable place to pass them. Stopped at Lochgilphead for lunch.

Best bit of the day by far was just after lunch. The 2 cars ahead of me as I headed off up the A816 both turned off fairly soon and then I had the whole road to myself pretty much from there to Oban. 35 miles of unadulterated road and spectacular scenery. Was great. There was a lot more traffic in Oban itself. Not sure where it all suddenly appeared from and it all promptly disappeared again as I left Oban on the A85. Made me wonder if a bunch of people were just driving round the one-way system for the hell of it really. Again the road was very quiet, especially when I crossed the bridge at Connel onto the A828. Was another good drive up to the A82. Pulled onto the A82 behind a queue of traffic that was behind a caravanette and 2 caravans. Oh well, all good things and all that. Trundled into Fort William about half 3.

Across the Loch at Fort William
Weather has really cheered up now, hope it stays that way for tomorrow. It's the bit I've most been looking forward too: round the top of Scotland!