Travel Diaries: Autumn in Scotland – Rockpooling at High Tide

In the autumn of 2019 we returned to Scotland, to the little holiday cottage on the windswept north west coast. We wanted to see how the changing seasons affected the landscape that we had fallen deeply in love with back in the springtime and timed our trip for when the autumn colours would reach their peak.

As soon as we had recovered from the long journey north, we set out for Durness, eager to see the Atlantic waves crash against the shore.

Our baby daughter was now just-turned-one and still in her carrier, wrapped up in blankets and scarves, huddled against me in the bracing winds.

There is a knack to getting children beach-ready in September in Durness. You master the art of catching gloves and scarfs as the breeze whisks them out of the car boot.

As you first step foot on the sands, a stream runs down from the crags to greet you, ripples under an old arched stone bridge, and then follows you down to the surf.

The clouds above us race by; shafts of sunlight appear for seconds and vanish.

We find a spot where the waves pool between the rocks. Our boys venture forward into the foam and quickly scuttle back, the youngest squealing with delight, every time the tide rushes in just a little quicker and further than expected.

Everywhere new textures catch my eye; just to my side is a cluster of shells that look as ancient as the weathered stone they cling to. I hold my daughter close enough to prod them gently with her mittened hand.

My little son, who speaks only rarely, runs his fingers over the barnacles that edge each rock pool and I just catch his words over the roar of the sea: “same but different!”

I love the deep greens of the seaweed, stretching out to greet the tide. My son reaches out eagerly to touch the beautiful strands, for he has a love of ribbons and streamers, but he gasps and then recoils back at the shock of cold, wet slime.

At a glance, the huge dark standing rocks are shrouded in deep blues and greys … and then, up close, they are streaked with a palette of coppers and deep reds.

Clear bell-like shapes of jellyfish peak up from the sands. From above they shine like polished amber.

A last glance before we take to the road. This is how I alway see Durness in my mind: the dark guardians under ever-moving skies.

On our journey back to the cottage the autumn landscape surrounds us; layers of gold, russet, burnt orange and muted red.

The mountains beckon to us; tomorrow we climb.

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Travel Diaries: Scotland Tour – Arriving in Edinburgh, unexpected changes and the historic apartment

For the last part of our Spring Tour of Scotland, we have booked to stay in an apartment that overlooks West Bow.

As we arrive, everywhere is bustling. It is a complete culture shock after staying in an isolated cottage in the mountains. The second thing that strikes me after the noise of the crowds and traffic is the sudden explosion of different smells – I have been used to the undiluted, crisp freshness of the wilderness. Having grown up in the Midlands I can immediately sense the oncoming rain in the air. Also, very strongly, there is that vinegary odour of Fish and Chips. Sugar from the patisserie we have parked up next to. The scent of leather wafts from the kilt makers. Petrol fumes from the cars that pass by. Roasted coffee and …. whisky. I am soon to learn that in the old part of the city, you are never more than a few doors away from either whisky or cashmere.

A few tourists pause to take a photo of our electric car. I wonder if they will spot all the children waving at them from the back seats when they review the photo later.

This was our view as we pulled up in our car to unload our belongings.

The apartment is found through a metal lattice gateway, and up several stone staircases. After all of the luggage is dropped off, we take our car to a secure underground carpark and make our way back through Edinburgh. In new situations, it is always best for us to stay together; our younger sons can get very unsettled and distraught if one person is missing.

It starts to rain as we emerge back onto street level with our rucksacks and children, who are blinking at the cars rushing past.

Straight away we have to make a quick change of plan when our direct route back is blocked off by a large group of protestors, who are shouting loudly at police and blowing whistles. Our two autistic sons have never been to a capital city before and have just had a very long car journey from the north west coast. Their instinct at such a scary time is to drop to the ground with their hands over their ears. Our seven month old daughter is shaking in her carrier. We hold hands (and reigns) in a long line and hurry everyone past as fast as we can, telling them that everything will be okay. At a safe place to pause, my husband loads google maps up on his phone and quickly finds an alternative route for us; we will use Waverley Train Station as our bridge to the other side of the city. We find an unassuming lift at street level and it takes us downwards.

Our youngest sons absolutely love trains. They have never been to a big train station before and their faces immediately light up. We take them up onto a gantry and let them watch as trains come and go from Platform 12. Without the diversion, initially such a danger, we would not be here and would not have shared this moment.

When we resurface, the rain has also stopped. The rest of the journey is comparatively easy.

The sun is shining again as I look out of our apartment window. Our train station encounter now feels very fitting for West Bow has wholeheartedly embraced Harry Potter (the famous cafe where Rowling wrote her first novel is at the end of the street) and refashioned itself as a real life Diagon Alley.

Our holiday apartment is beautiful, many centuries old and we have managed to book it at a last minute price due to a cancellation. A surprise letter in the drawing room asks that guests only engage in “light activities” due to the medieval wooden floor being at risk of collapse. It specifies “no dancing.” My husband and I look at each other and then glance at our five children. We decide that maybe our lively younger sons should concentrate on playing in the more robust stone vaults.*

The bedrooms are set up with iron bedsteads and tartan blankets. It reminds me of our trip to The Parsonage at Haworth.

My fourth son is confused that a bed should also have a climbing frame attached. His eyes are darting all over it and I know that he is fascinated. He loves to climb and we will need to watch him for every second that he is awake. Luckily, we plan to spend most of our time here outside, exploring the city.

Our third son finds a daybed in the nook between the master bedroom and bathroom and promptly falls fast asleep until morning.

One wonderful discovery is that we can leave the apartment by two entrances. The first leads out onto West Bow at ground level. However, if we go up a further stone staircase, we can exit through a very grand iron gate with portcullis spikes and out onto Victoria Terrace. Due east is filled with the sound of clicking cutlery, glasses and light chatter, as people enjoy the outdoor dining areas that overlook “Diagon Alley.” If we turn north from here, an alleyway leads us towards Edinburgh Castle.

Tonight, it is time to rest from a long day of travel and our journey through the crowds. Tomorrow, we plan to spend the day exploring the city on foot.

*Towards the end of the trip, since we had kept the drawing room a quiet place, our baby daughter enjoyed exploring there and learnt to crawl for the first time across the well-worn medieval floorboards.

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