With a couple of weeks left of our summer holidays we planned to see some of Britain while the sun shone warmly. We decided to head north to Scotland, but not as far as Aberdeen, where my ancestors had lived, as we visited there in 1998.
Our first stop was Durham, England, where we climbed the tower of the cathedral, giving us an excellent view of the countryside and the ancient town. Every cathedral we visited John thought was better than the last, but my favourite was Wells. That night we stayed in an old stone farmhouse, complete with sheep dogs and black-faced sheep.
Now in the days of smart phones and constant internet connection it is hard to imagine us arriving in Edinburgh not knowing that the Comedy Festival, the Fringe Festival and the Military Tattoo were all taking place. We even found a room for two nights at a B&B close to the centre of town.
The atmosphere in Edinburgh was great but I wish I had bought tickets to some of the events. We had ruled out the Military Tattoo as it was raining and umbrellas were not allowed because they blocked the view.
We caught a bus out to Leith, where the Britannia is berthed and went on a tour of inspection. Five decks of the ship are open to the public, including the Queen’s bedroom (only a single bed!), state dining and drawing rooms with the walls and shelves covered with gifts from kings and queens, presidents and prime ministers throughout the world. An on-board garage held a Rolls-Royce Phantom V state car. As the space was slightly too small the bumpers had to be removed and reattached every time it was used.
Four royal couples celebrated their honeymoon on HMY Britannia. Princess Margaret and Anthony Armstrong Jones in 1960 sailed the Caribbean, Princess Anne and Captain Mark Phillips in 1973, also visited the Caribbean but were met with storms and 20 foot waves, Prince Charles and Princess Diana in 1981 in the Mediterranean and Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson in 1986 travelling around the Azores.
In 1997 the ship was decommissioned as repair bills were becoming extremely controversial. It must have been a sad day for the Queen as it would have provided a respite from her public life. The clocks on board are stopped at 3:01, the time the Queen last disembarked.
Consulting my book of Bed and Breakfasts I directed John to a remote Scottish farmhouse, once a hunting lodge, high on a hill overlooking valleys, streams, sheep and cattle. We drove and drove up and down hills and through wild valleys, with not a house in sight. John was despairing of us ever finding a bed for the night and I must admit I was pretty tense. Just as well for those long twilights in summer! After arrival and settling in we were directed two miles down the road to the tiny whitewashed village of Barr and a charming pub, where we had superb food washed down by a delicious Chilean white wine.
We scuttled home when we realised how much we were spending – over £100 a day, and that was just food and accommodation. It was a different experience to Europe and very pleasant to be travelling around the British countryside without freezing to death.