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If you must go down to the Isle of Skye, or even just want to, most people think of two routes. You can drive to Kyle of Lochalsh and take the (now) free Skye Bridge or you can drive to Mallaig and take the CalMac ferry.
But, between Easter and October, 10am to 7pm, there is a third and, in my humble opinion, much more scenic and memorable way. And that's the Skye Ferry from Glenelg. There's been a ferry here of one sort or another for over 700 years and a car ferry since the 1930s.
For those of us who like to support small enterprises, there is an additional reason to choose this service. The Glenelg ferry is a community-owned service with profits being returned to the local community.
The ferry itself, the Glenahulish, is unique in Britain in that it's a turntable ferry. One drives onto the ferry - it holds six cars - and the whole car deck gets rotated through 180 degrees (by hand). You then get taken across the Kylerhea Narrows and drive off the same end of the boat you got on!
The trip takes approximately 5minutes, depending on water conditions and tide, so even if you just miss the ferry (as we did) then allowing for turn-around time you only have a 20 minute wait (or so) before it comes back again.
If you have to wait for the ferry, you can help yourself to a tea or a coffee and put your money in a box on trust.
The crossing costs £10 one way, or £15 for a return.
To find the ferry from the mainland, follow the A87 as thought you were heading for the bridge at Kyle of Lochalsh. When you get to Shiel Bridge, go past the shop and garage and look for the signpost on the left. Follow the signs and follow the winding and unbelievably picturesque alpine-style mountain pass - constructed in 1815 - over the hills for a dozen or so miles to Glenelg. The road on the Skye side winds over more gorgeous mountain scenery to rejoin the A87 just outside Ashaig. If coming from the Skye side, head for the bridge on the A87 and look for the sign on the right just after passing through Ashaig and (obviously) before you get to the bridge.
CalMac sell their (more expensive) ferry crossing as the scenic way to get to Skye. No it isn't. This is. Take the Glenelg ferry, help the community and have a journey that you'll remember for years.
This site is 8 miles south of Inverness and close to the main A9 trunk road and Cycle Route 7. We chose it for our camping holiday as it was between the Great Glen (and Loch Ness) and Aberdeen where we were staying for our last night.
Despite having chosen this as a functional stop-over, we did enjoy our overnight stay here. The camping field we stayed in is adjacent to the toilet blocks and the children's play area and a few yards from the reception building so is handily placed. Electrical hook-ups for tents are also available which was useful.
The pitches themselves were well marked out with plenty of room for our 4-man tent and car. The land was flat but well-drained with each pitch having direct access to the roadway so there was no need to drive across the field.
The site also accepts dogs which was one of the reasons we chose it. Like many sites, they ask that dogs are kept on leads at all times, which is fine by us. A dog walking field is provided where dogs can run free, although this was rather boggy when we visited it and had rather tall grass so we were afraid of losing sight of the dog. Certainly if we'd thrown his ball he wouldn't have been able to find it!
The toilet blocks were clean, well lit and well maintained with pine finish so they reminded me of a giant sauna! Although obviously not with the temperatures! The washing-up area and laundry room were in the same block and again furnished to a high standard. The showers were 20p for approximately 5 minutes, run by a slot meter.
The reception area doubles as a shop and is very small. The shop sells really only the basics (bread, milk, some tinned goods, matches, etc) so one would be well advised to bring anything you need with you.
We did have concerns about the noise and disturbance with being so close to the children's play area but come 10pm the noise dropped off completely and we had a peaceful late evening and night.
We went at the start of July 2009 and the site charged us £13.00 for a pitch with electricty and even waived the usual 50p charge for the dog. Prices for un-powered pitches vary between £5 for a small single-person pitch to £12.50 for a large pitch for a 6 person tent.
This little gem of a park is set at the end of a single track road that winds along the edge of the Sound of Kerrera. The location is stunning - in higher ground above a very small village with great views over the water and excellent for access to the island of Kerrera - the small ferry across the sound being less than a mile away.
It's really easy to find by car; just take the road up the side of the Tourist Information Centre in Oban, go past the big CalMac ferry terminal, then the small ferry across to Kerrera then and follow the road to its end in the village of Gallanach. A bus service serves the park twice a day (mid-morning and mid-afternoon) running from Oban with additional services in high season for those not arriving by car, or it's a two-mile walk from Oban centre.
The park itself is very friendly. We were a party of two camping with our collie dog and all three of us were made welcome. Like many sites they ask that the dog be kept on a lead at all times, which was not a problem for us.
There are separate caravan and tent fields. As we were camping, we made for the camping field which is in high on the saddle at the top of the valley in which the caravan part sits. The views from our tent were astounding - down the other side of the valley across the Sound of Kerrera and into the Firth of Lorn. Because the camping fields are at the top of a saddle, the drainage was excellent and we couldn't find any boggy spots even despite rain earlier in the day.
Although the site states that camping pitches do not have electrical hook-ups, some actually do and are available on a first-come, first-served basis for no extra charge. Those not needing electricity are asked, obviously, not to take up a "serviced" pitch. We were particularly pleased about the electricity as it allowed us to run our portable fridge and recharge its battery for the rest of the week.
The toilet-block is centrally located and was very clean. The showers were excellent, hot and free and the whole block spotlessly clean, despite the site being moderately busy when we visited. The campers' kitchen (aka washing up area) was also clean and had lots of hot water.
The camp shop was small but adequate catering for most emergency needs. It sold the usual bread, milk, tinned and dried goods as well as some fresh produce (veg and fruit), gas canisters, matches, batteries, etc. It had a small stock of half-bottles of decent wine. Compared to other shops on camp sites the prices were reasonable, although obviously more expensive than the supermarkets in Oban.
We only stayed for one night as we were touring on a tight schedule but would have loved to have stayed longer. We will be back.
Prices were £13 per night which includes the first two people and one car. Extra people, cars, awnings, etc would have been £2 per night each. Infants are free, as was the dog.
Wrigley's "5" gum is the subject of an intense marketing campaign; one can hardly failed to have missed the adverts where a young man lies in a huge pool of ball bearings.
Sadly this gum is a classic example of style over substance.
I tried the "electro" spearmint variety. 12 sticks of oddly green looking gum for 99p. The packaging is interesting, jet black with a novel "catch" to keep the pack closed.
The problem here is that the adversing promises a sensory overload and that's perhaps quite a lot to expect from a stick of chewing gum. The flavour is intense when you first start to chew although where the "electro" sensation is supposed to come from, I'm not sure. It's just like very strongly flavoured spearmint chewing gum.
To give it some credit, the spearmint flavour does last a considerable length of time, at least 15 minutes and is reasonably intense for most of that. But one could just as easily take a piece of cheaper gum every 5 minutes and achieve the same effect and it would probably cost less. 8p a stick is a lot for chewing gum.
On reflection, perhaps it isn't as bad as I'm painting it. It actually is a decent long-lasting chewing gum. But it's over-priced and suffers from massive hype which it can't live up to. Without the ads and at a lower price this would be a very, very good chewing. With the ads and at 8p per stick, it isn't worth it.
This review is based on a stay with partner, two children, one child's friend and a dog at the end of August 2008. The stay was booked via Haven Holidays and paid for with Tesco Clubcard tokens (note - no longer available).
Haggerston Castle is a large site in the very north-eastern corner of England; 10 miles south of Berwick-upon-Tweed and directly adjacent to the main A1 road.
If you're the sort of family that goes to a site and stays there for the full week or weekend, never leaving, then you'll probably love Haggerston Castle. We're not and we didn't.
Our visit was the tail-end of high season so we expected it to be busy. But it was unbelievably busy. We couldn't get a table in either of the showbars unless we were there very, very early or we were extremely lucky and happened to be walking past a table when a group stood up and left. But more often we didn't have the patience and retired back to the caravan. If you get there at noon and watch all of the shows during the day then you'll probably be fine. But if you've been out for the day (and we were out every day as there's so much to see around the area) then by the time you've got back, eaten, got dolled up (kids!) and hiked across to the complex then it'll be packed full.
The shop also frequently ran out of staple products (e.g. bread and milk). More area devoted to food and less to fluffy gonks may have been useful.
On the plus side, the site itself was fine. It was very well kept and the lake is lovely. The hire boats were good (if not a little expensive) and the kids loved the freedom of having a boat (they're 15, 15 and 17).
On the positive side and despite having the lowest class of accommodation (Bronze) because of the dog, the actual caravan was fine. All I want of a van on these sites is that it's somewhere to cook and sleep. It was in good repair and everything worked. Perfect.
The site's location is it's main plus point though. Just off the A1, it's ideal for visits to Holy Island (Lindisfarne) or the many attractions on the coastline (Seahouses, Bamburgh Castle). It's a short-drive to Berwick-upon-Tweed (where there's a Morrison's supermarket for when the camp shop runs out) and you can jump on a train there and zoom up to Edinburgh. We took the car up to Edinburgh as we wanted to call it at a friend on the way and to go across to Leith to see the Royal Yacht Britannia (well worth a look around).
Please don't think I'm being a snob. I've been to many Haven parks over the years and I know what they're like. I've actually been to its sister site in Berwick-upon-Tweed and loved that site. But Haggerston is the worst site I've been on in and that was simply because of the volume of people. The staff were over-stretched and impersonal. The queues for the pool were horrendous (we queued for much longer than we spent in there).
This is probably a great site when it's quiet. But it isn't when it's busy.
First of all, if you don't already know what game of Mornington Crescent is about, do not buy these CDs as it will have you almost entirely baffled. Needless to say it's little to do with a Tube station in London and less to do with the street of the same name.
If, however, you're an afficianado of Mornington Crescent then these CDs are little belters.
Mornington Crescent is a game played on the Radio 4 panel game "I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue" in which contestants take turns in naming (usually) London Tube stations or London roads. The background is that it's a game played using the London Tube map as a "board" (or the A-Z) and there is a mythology that it has a complex set of rules, variations and gambits wheras in fact it has just one rule and one aim. The rule is that the first player to say "Mornington Crescent" wins. The aim is to be funny. There are actually no other rules and part of the humour of the game is in the utter simplicity of the actual point of the game versus the game's fictitious complexity.
The first of the two CDs has the documentary "In Search of Mornington Crescent" which orignally aired on Radio 4. It's presented by Andrew Marr and includes contributions from the regulars of I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue, i.e. Humphrey Lyttleton, Barry Cryer, Tim Brooke Taylor and Graeme Garden as well as Adam Hart-Davis, Anthony Worrall Thompson, Barry Davies, Dame Judi Dench and Sir Michael Gambon. The premise of the documentary is to explain the background of Mornington Crescent and to discover the definitive set of rules. Needless to say what it actually does is to give a background to the game's mythology.
The second CD contains monologues from Lyttleton, Cryer, Brooke Taylor and Garden on the general subject of Mornington Crescent. They're very clever and witty.
I'm completely well aware that Mornington Crescent divides people. Some find it a hilarious parody on complicated board games. Some people find it utterly baffling, even if they understand what is actually going on. And some people hate the general "clique"-iness of people "in the know" not explaining what the actual point of the game is and confusing people with complicated "rules" and "gambits".
But if you do appreciate Mornington Crescent for what it is, a parody, then you'll love these CDs. If not, not. I'm in the first camp but not everyone will agree with me.
The two CDs costs around £8 onlline.
To be honest, my expectations were fairly low for a bag of crisps that costs under 4p. But these Tesco Value Ready Salted crisps are actually very good, much better than I'd expected.
Other reviews have noted that the flavour's not particularly strong and I'd agree. However I see that as a plus point. The crisps laste less of salt and more of potato. The salt is in a low enough quantity to enhance the crisp's potato flavour without smothering it.
The bag is also on the small side at 18g (compared with 34g for a standard-sized bag of Walkers). However I also see the smaller bag as a plus point. We tend to provide a bag of crisps with packed lunches. The smaller bag makes it easier to pack into a box as well as containing less calories, salt and fat simply because it's smaller!
But at the end of the day, they're 4p a bag. They taste perfectly fine. Ours had a use-by date at least three months into the future so they'll also last a decent amount of time.
We bought a pack of 12 x 18g bags for 46p, which makes it just over 3.8p per bag. The crisps are sold in 12-packs and as part of a larger 28-pack bag containing additional flavours. Available in most Tesco stores.
Olbas Bath Liquid is a version of the famous Swiss essential oils blend which allows one to lie back in a bath, relax and let those heady vapours clear your sinuses, nose and throat. The product is made with entirely "natural" ingredients although some of them, such as those made from coconut oil (see below), have been through some serious processing.
Olbas Oil has always been added to hot water for steam inhalation but this special formulation for baths adds the cleaning ability as well.
Ingredients include the usual Olbas essentials, i.e. Peppermint Oil, Eucalyptus Oil, Cajeput Oil, Wintergreen Oil, Juniper Oil and Clove Oil. Added to these for the bath formulation are are two ingredients made from Coconut Oil - Sodium Laureth Sulfate (which gives the cleaning effect) and Diethanolamine (for bubbles).
The liquid itself is green (coloured with chorophyll) and a half-capful poured into running hot water produces the necessary heady aroma and plethora of bubbles. How long the aroma lasts depends on the heat of the bath; I like my baths relatively cool so I get a good 10-15 minutes before the vapours start to clear. I assume those who like really hot baths will get a shorter but more intense aroma. The head-clearing effect really does work. When I'm "bunged up" I have an Olbas bath before bed. It clears my head and allows me to get off to sleep quickly.
The only caution I would give is that you should read the instructions first. Some of the ingredients can cause problems for people with sensitive skins. For those of us with less sensitive skins, there can be a temptation to put too much in the bath to get more head-clearing effect. I would caution against this. Wintergreen is one of the ingredients, and I'm being delicate here, it can have interesting effects on a person's more sensitive parts. Anyone who has had a wintergreen rub when playing sport can testify to that! It should also not be used in the shower as the neat product applied to sensitive parts can also produce "interesting" effects.
A 250ml bottle costs around £3-£4 from most supermarkets, chemists and similar shops and lasts around 10 baths.
"Between You and I" is another of the very many books that illustrates how the author believes the English language is being misused and subverted.
It is written in the style of a dictionary, with words or phrases that the author deems to be "wrong" listed and a paragraph or two saying what he believes is wrong with them.
The book is a short one, in my volume stretching to 125 pages. And there is the seat of the problem. The author has chosen the words and phrases he considers most of a "problem". But it bears little relationship to how most of use English. I consider myself to be reasonably adept at English, but it has really not occured to me that the word "recrudescence" is "quite often" used incorrectly or that the word "careen" is a problem either.
The author is quick to recognise that English is not a language that can be cast in stone and it doesn't have fixed rules of grammar or usage. And I actually like style guides - I find the Fowler brothers' books excellent even though they are over 50 years old. The problem is that this one is either not representative of actual English usage or it is too short. Or both.
Of course any style guide is simply and expression of the preferences and niggles of the author(s). Unfortunately this author's preferences and niggles don't match mine.
The author also has an unfortunate tendency to point out what is wrong with the usage he objects to rather than pointing out what would be (in his opinion) correct usage. This makes the book sound more like a rant against "Bad English" (his phrase) rather than a guide to "good" English.
For what it's worth, I find Bill Bryson's "Troublesome Words" a better style guide. It's more comprehensive and written with better humour.
Incidentally, as the author points out, it should be "between you and me".
The paperback edition can be had for around £5-£6.
"Around the World in 80 Days" is the first of Michael Palin's series of journeys to far-flung parts of the world. The premise is to follow Phileas Fogg's fictional journey from Jules Verne's book as closely as possible and using methods of transport that would have been available in Verne's time. In other words, no aeroplanes! The journey starts at the Reform Club in London and proceeds generally eastwards to finish at the same place.
As befits this progenitor series, one can see Palin's style evolving, such as his keeness to get involved with "ordinary people" and his gentle humour. The journey is much more "raw" than in the later books and films and the apparently unplanned nature of it really shows. At times there is genuine tension when our hero ends up at an apparent dead-end, which happens more than once.
There are some genuinely moving parts to the book, chief amongst which are him being unwell in the middle of the Indian Ocean and his voyage with Yugoslav sailors.
Interestingly the book covers a part of the journey which was missing from the TV series (and therefore DVDs), i.e. the journey from Saudi Arabia through Qatar and into the United Arab Emirates. This part is amongst the most fraught and interesting of the journey. It is good to see it given extensive coverage in the book as, although the reasons are explained in the film, it is clearly an ommission in that medium and does detract from the story. I won't give too much away, but beauracracy very nearly killed his chances stone dead.
The book itself is written as a diary and so is easy to put down and pick up again. It's an ideal holiday book or a book to read on short train journeys for example. Palin has an accessible writing style and his book really complements the film perfectly, yet is completely valid as an account of his journey on its own.
The book has recently been re-released in hardback (hence this review) and can be had for around £14. The new paperback can be had for around £7. Previous editions of both hardback and paperback can be had for around £3 online including delivery.
The audiobook (around £19 on CD or £15 for download) is also excellent and runs for seven-and-a-half hours.
Full Circle is my favourite of Michael Palin's travel books and films. It is also his longest and, probably, his most diverse.
In this voyage Michael and his film crew take 10 months to go right the way around the Pacific Rim, a journey of almost 50,000 miles. He starts in the far north, on the Bering Straight where Alaska almost meets Russia.
He then travels dow the east coast of Asia, travelling through Russia, Japan, South Korea*, China, Vietnam, Philippines, Malaysia, and Indonesia. He then skips along to the southern part of the pacific visiting Australia and New Zealand before heading to the Americas in Chile. He then veers off towards the Atlantic for a while going through Bolivia, Peru and Colombia before returning to the Pacific and going north through Mexico, the United States, Canada and finally ending up back where he started off the coast of Alaska.
* The team were unable to visit North Korea for fairly obvious reasons.
The journey is full of memorable highlights. My personal favourites are the wonky Russian helicopter, the Banaue Rice Terraces in the Phillipines (which you don't actually get to see) and the great Amazon canoe journey. Then there are the people he meets; the Kodo drummers in Japan, native people in the Amazon and in the jungles of Borneo, and would-be immgrants trying to illegally cross from Mexico to the Unites States.
Add to this Palin's gentle humour, his well-chosen words (in the book) and the beatifully shot film then you have one of the great travelogues.
This journey is available new on a set of three DVDs for around £9 and in a paperback book for around £6. Hardback book and VHS copies are also available second-hand as these formats are no longer being produced. The running time on the DVDs is over 9 hours so that's £1 per hour - great value!
I spotted the 1 litre Resolva 24H spray in Tesco for £3.00 with an offer of £1.50 cashback by redemption from the manufacturer. Even without the cashback that made it cheaper than Roundup or other brand-name weedkillers so I thought I'd give it a whirl.
The nozzle has "stream", "spray" and "off" settings so it's easy to apply to the weeds without spraying nearby plants. I tried it on weeds growing between the flags in our front garden as well as weeds growing between the cracks in a stone circle in the back garden. All you need do is spray it on the weeds' leaves in calm weather and when it isn't going to rain.
The trigger is easy to use and doesn't take too much force to operate. Unlike some other sprays, my fingers didn't ache after applying it. The nozzle is easy to aim. The 1 litre spray treats approximately 40 square metres (approximately 48 square yards).
The active ingredients are glyphosate and diquat. Glyphosate is a very common sytemic weedkiller and is in many similar products. Four days after application, the weeds are now starting to wilt.
Resolva 24H is acually similar to a lot of other weedkillers, both brand-name ones and generic ones. At £3 it is good value - 99p cheaper than Roundup - and with £1.50 cashback even better value. However the 24H in the title is slightly misleading. I had assumed good results after 24 hours, but it has taken several days for the weeds to start to wilt. Reading the small-print, it can take 28 days for the complete effect to show. This is also similar to other weedkillers but they don't appear to claim a 24-hour action.
Logic Gel is, effectively, a doggy (or catty) toothpaste.
It's well known that human toothpaste is bad for most animals, including dogs and cats. Logic Gel helps keep down plaque levels in between visits to the vets.
The gel itself comes in a toothpaste-like tube with a nozzle attachment which allows you to vary the size of the bead of gel that you squeeze out. The idea is a narrow bead for a small animal and a wider one for a larger animal.
The gel can be applied in one of two ways.
The main method is to squeeze a bead onto a finger and then rub it onto the animal's teeth or gums. Alternatively mix it with a small amount of food. This latter method is particularly effective if the animal has dry food. The makers suggest that it can also be applied to an animal's leg and they will lick it off. Our cross-breed collie didn't and ended up with a sticky leg so we won't be doing that again.
The manufacturers do not recommend that this is used on an animal toothbrush. They say that the gel contains enzymes and "mild abrasive agents". The gel also makes the animal salivate which then washes the enzymes around their mouth and the gel is rather sticky so one assumes that helps it stick to the teeth. The enzymes help loosen the plaque and the abrasives clean the teeth.
It should be said that this isn't a substitute for having regular check-ups at a vet's. But as a between-visits measure we have found it very helpful in keeping our dog's teeth healthy.
It's hard to give a definitive answer as to how effective it is because we've only got one dog. A comparison with a dog not using Logic is therefore very hard for us. All I can say is that the vet is pleased with his teeth.
A 70g tube costs around £9 from our vets or can be had for £6-£7 online. It typically lasts two months.
Lilt Zero is one of the better of the fruit-based "no added sugar" (NAS) drinks.
Like many similar drinks, it isn't actually zero sugar. It has 5% fruit juice in it (pineapple and grapefruit) and fruit juice contains natural sugar. So "zero" Lilt has 1.5g of sugar in a 500ml bottle.
The thing that makes Lilt Zero one of the better drinks is that they've managed to replicate the taste of the sugary version reasonably well. And that means that you can't really taste the sweeteners they add instead of sugar. There is a very slight chemical taste in the back of the mouth after one has drunk it, but certainly much less than, say, Fanta.
Of course all of those chemical sweeteners have their own problems as well and aren't universally viewed as a good thing. But for people such as diabetics who still want a sweet fizzy drink, this is a good choice.
The one problem with it is that it tastes much less pleasant if it's allowed to get anywhere like warm. Ice cold Lilt Zero is lovely; lukewarm Lilt Zero less so. So it is not the best for keeping in a bag or in the car.
Retail prices are around £1 for a 500ml bottle. Don't forget to recycle the bottle or can as well!
I'm a huge fan of Walker's Crisps. They are, in my humble opinion, the best crisps around bar none.
But this new Builder's Breakfast flavour is, to be frank, awful. Just awful.
When I was actually eating the crisps, they didn't actually taste too bad. Possibly even the best* of the six new awful flavours they've been trying out - although that's possibly damned by faint praise. The taste reminded me of a slightly salty beans on toast flavour. And possibly a slightly eggy taste at the back of the mouth. Not much of the other so-called breakfast constituents though.
The problem is that the taste was with me all day until I could get home and clean my teeth. What stated out as a not particularly unpleasant bag of crisps turned into a day of beaniness and egginess that grew progessively more unpleasant and persisted depite lots of cups of tea (that other builder's staple food), a sandwich and even some chocolate. Only the application of minty toothpaste and a sonic toothbrush seemed to shift it.
The one good thing is that my detal hygiene was particularly good that day - had to be, really.
Retail price is around 50p for a 34.5g bag. But I wouldn't eat another pack if they were free.
* For "best" read "least awful".