Our journey began on the early boat from Belfast to Cairnryan – it was very easy to board, although it was packed with Scottish bands returning after their participation in yesterday’s Twelf parades. The queue for food seemed unduly long – the system of ordering, paying and acquiring food appeared to be really inefficient. I only wanted a tea and a coffee – thank goodness they were bottomless cups, so I only had to queue once. And then had unlimited supplies of tea. Which was nice.
Once docked and disembarked, we stopped at Asda in Girvan for loos and road trip snacks. Though we lifted a pack of Seriously Strong individual portions (Take 2, said Roger!) only to discover that they were spready cheese, not solid, so we needed crackers.
En route to the Kelpies, we decided we had enough time to see the Falkirk Wheel. Parking was a bit tricky, particularly since we had a top box on, and the 2.1m clearance was just about sufficient. And many cars were already parked over 2 spaces – they’ll be first up against the wall come the revolution! But we strolled along the canal and to the visitors centre just in time to see a boat perform its graceful circular descent. What a marvellous piece of engineering! And how lovely to see canals being used more, especially by a beautiful swan with her chicks, hissing at passing dogs on the tow path.
We cut our time short, as the Sat Nav seemed to say it would take an hour to get to the Kelpies. Actually, they were only a few miles away – the SatNav’s eta was for our final destination, not the stopping off points.
Helix Park was jam packed, with a line of cars queuing to enter, but the security staff were most helpful when we pointed out that we had reserved tickets for the tour, and we were ushered through gates to a spot right by the statues.
Ah, Duke and Baron. They really are a thing of beauty. Created by Andrew Scott based on actual working Clydesdales, standing 30m high, weighing 300 tonnes and costing £5m for the pair, these steel behemoths are a jaw-droppingly gorgeous confluence of rigidity and fluidity, sinewy steel, a riveting and outrageous blend of engineering and art. They have the appearance of smooth strokable silk, though they’re made of solid cold steel. They have graceful flowing curves, whilst being constructed of 500 solid metal individual snowflakes of metal. They constantly change with the light, but have solid foundations extending well below the marshy canal-griddled surface.
A tour costs £4.95, and includes the experience of stepping inside one, into speckled, freckled light cast by the skeleton and framework, the gaps in the plates giving fragmented glimpses of the world outside.
An hour’s drive took us to Peebles, where we had booked a room in the Tontine Hotel on main street. Car park space at the rear, and a gold post box in front of this quaint old inn – the Tontine system was an investment scheme which basically amounts to last man standing wins the lot.
Peebles is Picture-skew with a capital Pic. The main street is clustered with dinky little independent gift shops and art galleries, a perfect pottering paradise. The town is situated on the River Tweed, with elegant bridges across it, and wide green spaces on either side.
We dined at the Crown, on the recommendation of the Norn Irish barmaid at the Bridge Inn, where I’d supped the Malt of the Moment (Glen Parker) in the beer garden beside the old stone bridge. Dinner was haggis-stuffed chicken breast, and a pork/ black pudding/ apple burger for £35, incl drinks.
Having been on the fence for some time, I was suddenly convinced that Scotland should vote for independence. Its own identity and branding are very strong. But maybe what is good for Scotland isn’t necessarily what is good for the rest of the world. Tough call.