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Tuesday
Dec272011

Inverness to Edinburgh

We were heading back to Edinburgh this morning on an early train so we all had to be up early, packed and ready to leave before 09:00. A coach took us the short distance to the train station and we were soon on board our carriage. This time the seat reservations worked and we all had our allocated first class seats.

That was about as good as this train journey got.

There was no promised breakfast service until Edinburgh, which is where we were getting off, and as the train had been standing idle over the Christmas break someone had drained all of the water tanks but no one had thought to refill them this morning, so there was now water on board for drinks or to flush the toilets. I couldn't help wondering why the Swiss couple in out group had left the wonderfully clean and efficient Swiss rail service behind to come to Scotland for Christmas and suffer the crap services of the British rail system.

Just as we were nearing our destination of Edinburgh Waverley station we were held up at the preceding station for a good while and then had to reverse out on a 20 minute detour due to overrunning engineering works so the whole trip had been a bit of a farce.

We were booked in to the same Radisson Blu hotel for the night and after dumping our luggage in our room I headed out with my mother for lunch in the Castle Arms, which now seemed to be my local pub in Edinburgh. After lunch I left her back at the hotel and wandered off around the shops and Christmas market again where I managed to squeeze in a hotdog / frankfurter some mulled wines.

We had our last group meal in the evening and said our goodbyes as we were all heading off in different directions next morning. I'd got to quite like the people in the tour group and had enjoyed some good evenings with them.
 

Tuesday 26 December

We were heading back to Edinburgh this morning on an early train so we all had to be up early, packed and ready to leave before 09:00. A coach took us the short distance to the train station and we were soon on board our carriage. This time the seat reservations worked and we all had our allocated first class seats. 

That was about as good as this train journey got. 

There was no promised breakfast service until Edinburgh, which is where we were getting off, and as the train had been standing idle over the Christmas break someone had drained all of the water tanks but no one had thought to refill them this morning, so there was now water on board for drinks or to flush the toilets. I couldn't help wondering why the Swiss couple in out group had left the wonderfully clean and efficient Swiss rail service behind to come to Scotland for Christmas and suffer the crap services of the British rail system.

Just as we were nearing our destination of Edinburgh Waverley station we were held up at the preceding station for a good while and then had to reverse out on a 20 minute detour due to overrunning engineering works so the whole trip had been a bit of a farce.

We were booked in to the same Radisson Blu hotel for the night and after dumping our luggage in our room I headed out with my mother for lunch in the Castle Arms, which now seemed to be my local pub in Edinburgh. After lunch I left her back at the hotel and wandered off around the shops and Christmas market again where I managed to squeeze in a hotdog / frankfurter some mulled wines.

We had our last group meal in the evening and said our goodbyes as we were all heading off in different directions next morning. I'd got to quite like the people in the tour group and had enjoyed some good evenings with them.
  
Monday
Dec262011

Loch Ness

Today we had a coach trip to Loch Ness. Robert, our tour manager, wasn't too sure if there was also meant to be a boat trip on the Loch but after arriving at the small dock where the boat was moored it soon became apparent that there was no boat excursion going to happen on Boxing Day.  We continued on by coach to the Loch Ness Centre & Exhibition, which also looked very closed until we realised that the entrance wasn't the main doors at the front but rather the smaller entrance around the side.

To be honest, the exhibition about the possibility of such a monster existing, the likely alternatives to what people thought were monster sightings and the various searches for the monster over the years was a lot better and more interesting than I'd expected. I had almost been expecting a "if you don't believe in the monster you're just an ignorant Sassenach" type of exhibition so was pleasantly surprised as I walked out through the obligatory gift shop at the end.  

We were then taken to the nearby Urquhart Castle, which was closed for the holidays. The coach driver told us it was a bit of a rip off anyway as the entry price was rather high and they had planted trees and bushes around the boundary of the area enclosing the castle so you couldn't see any views of it without paying. A few of us walked back up to the higher main road to take a few photos over the bushes anyway.

I was beginning to feel a bit sorry for our tour manager by now as I felt he'd been dealt a bit of a bad hand of cards in that the trips and sights we were meant to be seeing were closed due to the Christmas holidays. Perhaps Great Rail Journeys should have planned  and checked things a bit better? I assume they run these holidays at Christmas and New Year every year so perhaps this year we were just unlucky? I was also feeling a bit sorry for the for the first time Great Rail travelers as in my limited experience this wasn't at all typical of their holiday packages. I'd had a fantastic Warsaw Express holiday and also an excellent Christmas one in Switzerland, which naturally ran like clockwork.

Our coach driver took us back to Inverness by a different scenic route which took in a stop at the priory at Beauly.

The evening was the usual excellent mean in the hotel followed by the free bar, although most of us had one eye on the clock as we had an early start next morning.

Sunday
Dec252011

Christmas Day in Inverness

As there was nothing planned for us, it being Christmas Day, most of the group went on the free guided walk I'd spotted yesterday. The guide was dressed in typical Scottish dress despite the weather and was quite interesting as he took us around three of four sites in Inverness. He obviously expected a tip, so it wasn't totally free, but it was worth it to get some of the history of Inverness and the surrounding areas.

Back at the hotel we had warming coffee and various mulled drinks before dinner. I had expected the main meal to be in the evening so I was a little taken aback by the huge Christmas dinner server to us, again washed down with free drinks. After this huge meal most of our group either crashed out in the hotel lounge or headed back to their rooms for a rest or sleep. I did the latter and only emerged at around 19:00 to have a go at the huge and varied cold buffet spread out along one wall of the large dining room.   

After more complimentary drinks in the lounge bar I headed back to my room wondering how I'd managed to eat and drink so much in one day.

Saturday
Dec242011

Kyle of Lochalsh

Today our tour group walked to the train station in Inverness to travel on the Kyle Line to the Kyle of Lochalsh on the west coast of Scotland. My mother and another elderly lady in our group had decided to stay behind. The hotel had provided us with a packed lunch and there were plenty left over until we realised we were meant to take two packed lunches each - one for the way there and one for the way back.

The train journey to the west coast took about two and a half hours and unfortunately the weather really closed in on the last part of the journey. When we arrived at the Kyle of Lochalsh it was raining heavily and much to our tour guide's relief we all decided to not to wander around in the rain and go straight back on the same train. He had been worried that some may want to go straight back and others my want to stay there for a couple of hours and come back on the next train. It was a pity about the weather as the bridge over the sea to Sky looked interesting and I'd always wanted to set foot on Sky. However, the awful weather and the distinct lack of local activity on what was Christmas Eve made venturing out of the station seem a bit pointless.

I think we all tucked in to our packed lunches on the way back and then fell asleep.

Once back in Inverness I had another wander around town and spotted a posted advertising a free guided walk the following morning, Christmas Day, so I took a photo of it to remind me of the details.

Back at the hotel we had some more drinks, then our evening meal which was washed down with more drinks. No wonder this hotel was so highly rated by Great Real Journey's customers, they certainly knew how to feed and water their guests.

Friday
Dec232011

Edinburgh to Inverness

After a group breakfast I went out for a brief walk before we all took taxis to the nearby Edinburgh Waverley train station for our journey to Inverness. We had to change at Perth and the next train was crowded and our reserved seats were a big fail. We all managed to find seats though so it wasn't really worth our guide making a fuss with the train staff.

On our arrival at Inverness there was a coach to take us the short journey to The Palace Hotel, where we were staying for the next four nights. There was a bit of confusion at check in as my mother and I had been allocated a double room, instead of the two single rooms we had booked. It was soon resolved when it was discovered that a couple called Kane in our party had been allocated two single rooms.

I'd often had people in the UK assuming my Caine surname was spelled Kane, but this was the first people I'd met who were actually called Kane. We had a bit of a laugh when we realised that the Edinburgh hotel that morning had crossed Kane off their list for breakfast instead of Caine and they had a little bit of fuss before getting their breakfast.

I'd been allocated a small warm bedroom and my mother had a larger but colder bedroom. She feels the cold more at her age and I'd rather be cooled and wrap up rather than be too warm so we swapped rooms.

There was nothing planned for us that day so I wandered off in to town for a look around and aslo bought some more whisky and coke. Back in my room I had a couple of "socialiser" drinks before our evening meal. I hadn't realised that wine was included with our meal and that there was also a "complimentary" bar (presumably included in the cost of the holiday) so I was fairly tipsy going to bed tonight.