With packing done we went down to Breakfast at the hotel and found the brasserie to be quite busy; lots of people taking advantage of the B & B service, which I have to say is very good. The staff are very attentive and well-organised and I really like the Glasgow Pond Hotel but if I stayed there again I would certainly ask for a room away from the lift, lobby and stairs!
Having refuelled our stomachs we checked out and refuelled the car. While I haven't mentioned it before the cost of fuel here is criminal. At home in Perth we're complaining about diesel when it's $1.40 a litre and here in the UK it's GBP 1.40 and upward - that's almost double - and the BMW is a hungry beast.
Leaving Glasgow we were guided by the GPS onto the M1 but, while fast, it's a boring route. We had a couple of hours in hand as the GPS had predicted that via the M1 we would have reached our destination by 1pm and we were due there at 3pm. So, at around Carlisle we branched off to Hexham and followed a more scenic road.
We had left a dismal and rainy Glasgow behind but as we drove further south it slowly improved. It was still overcast when we stopped to have a closer look at Hadrian's Wall. On a past visit to the UK we had visited both Vindolanda and Birdoswald but had not seen such a continuous, intact and dramatic section of the wall as we found at Cawfields. We parked in the Pay & Display area (a close thing as we didn't have enough change to pay the GBP4 fee but a kindly family just returning from looking at the wall gave us their ticket) and walked up the well marked path, past the quarry site that destroyed part of the wall, and onto the wall and milecastle.
Unable to resist, we followed the wall for about a kilometre at one point having to climb some steep steps to reach the top of a hill. The remains of the wall stretched out in either direction and it's obvious what a bold statement it must have made when it was first constructed. The Romans made use of every natural feature as the wall bends, twists and undulates following the contours of the land. The mortar still holds strong and I believe that had not the subsequent inhabitants of the area seen the wall as a convenient source of materials for their stone walls and dwellings, the wall would still be standing. Instead it's a far cry from what it would have originally looked like, with entire sections having vanished in places, but in spite of that it's still an impressive piece of architecture.
Fired with the idea of, one day, hiking the length of the wall we turned back and made our way back to the car. Having spent a good 45 minutes at Cawfields we set off on our journey again. We turned east following Hadrian's Wall by road with the line of stone being quite visible, sometimes in the distance, sometimes close to the road, until finally it vanished from view.
We had not been following the GPS and suddenly we realised that time was running out. We stopped in Hexham and took the opportunity to get a few supplies to see us through the next 3 days of self-catering. I was getting worried as I had texted the owner of Wood Cottage giving my ETA and requesting the access code for the property as we left Glasgow and I had still not had a reply. It was also clear that we were not going to make it to Buxworth by 3pm when we were due to meet my good friends, Barb and Linz, so I also sent them messages to let them know we would be delayed. This was around 2.15pm.
I kept checking my phone but no messages came through. I resent my text to the owner of Wood Cottage and started to panic with visions of Barb and Linz arriving at the cottage and having to wait another two hours until we got there but not knowing why or where we were. I had no way of knowing if my texts had got through so I used Alex's phone which has a local SIM in case it was my global roaming that was causing issues. Once more I sent a text to the owner of Wood Cottage. I received a reply within seconds; he had received my previous texts and responded to them both but still nothing had come through on my phone. At least I was fairly confident that Barb and Linz had received my messages now explaining our delay but the better news was that I was able to text the access code through so that they would not be waiting for us to turn up with no way of getting inside.
Traffic near Newcastle was slow and time seemed to be leaking away, and I had visions of it being 6pm before we finally arrived. The good news was that the weather was absolutely glorious once we hit North Yorkshire and we made the rest of the journey under blue skies and warm sunshine. Once we had cleared the congestion of Newcastle and Gateshead (nice to see The Angel of the North in passing though) the trip became much faster. The scenery changed from gentle rolling hills, to more dramatic moorland and increasingly starker hills, until at last we crossed into Derbyshire and the Peak District, with its towering (what else?) peaks.
Winding through tiny villages with main streets to equal the single-track roads in Scotland (but with no convenient passing places!) we finally approached Buxworth, carefully reading the directions to Wood Cottage. It was a surprise to find the building right on the main road at the outskirts of the village and we were past it before we realised that the steep driveway right on the bend was the sole access to the property.
Nowhere to turn. Fortunately the road didn't go too much further before it joined with the main road and Alex was able to turn into a driveway and, with a tricky bit of manoeuvring, managed to turn us around. Then it was back to Wood Cottage and to a now concealed driveway that it much more difficult to enter from the other direction. Still, we had made it.
There was no sign of habitation but it was a good sign that the gate was unlocked and, when we tried it, the back door. Sure enough as we ventured in we could hear voices and Barb and Linz came from upstairs to greet us.
The messages sent by the cottage owner and the replies from Barb eventually came through an hour or so later when my provider changed from Vodaphone to EE. Obviously Vodaphone is as crap in the UK as it is in Australia!
Of course the first thing we all did was log on to the wi-fi - phones, laptops, tablets - after that anything could happen! We had our lifelines to the world.
The cottage is on three levels with the kitchen, dining room and laundry room in what is essentially the basement (although the back door accesses the garden as the house is on a sloping block leaving 2 storeys at street level and three at the rear). The second floor has two lounge areas separated by a fireplace that services both sides, and a home gym (unfortunately the exercise bike is broken and has only one resistance level which is basicaly no resistance at all) and upstairs are the bedrooms and bathroom.
There are two double rooms and a twin room. The master has an ensuite but there is only one shower on the floor that everyone has to share. The en suite houses a spa tub, a sink and a toilet and the spa is not much good for someone just needing to shower. Considering that there is a sofa bed in the lounge room the cottage could realistically cater for 8 adults so, in my opinion, the bathroom facilities are very poor. There are two additional toilets at least, the one in the master bedroom and one in the laundry so the situation is not so dire when it comes to needing to use the loo!
Overall the place is nice but lacks polish and, like Sea Loch View on Skye, just misses the grade on the little things. At least Wood Cottage was clean but on the downside the drain in the laundry smells and the odour permeates the lower floor - which includes the kitchen and dining room. Also the small fridge in the kitchen was dirty (although we didn't use this one, we just left it closed and used the big fridge).
After a thorough investigation of the cottage we finally stopped chatting (I haven't seen Linz for 4 years or Barb for 2 although we maintain contact online) and shared a pizza for dinner. Sometime after 11pm we finally stopped talking and retired to our respective beds.
Alex took the master bedroom, I took the second double room and Barb and Linz bunked in the twin room. Here came the biggest complaint for me; when I went to get into bed, which all looked very nice and fresh, the bedding was full of hair. So, I spent the next half hour brushing and picking hair off the bottom sheet. It may have been dog hair or human hair but whatever it was it wasn't what I expect to have to do. When I looked closer at the duvet it was in the same condition and I ended up reversing it as the side on display seemed to be okay. Even so, I shook it well and examined it minutely before deciding that I could do no more short of stripping the whole bed and putting it through a wash cycle. The bedding was clean, that certainly wasn't a problem, it was just hairy!
I spent a restless few hours sleeping on the edge of the bed, only partly covered by the duvet as the room was warm anyway, and feeling itchy and uncomfortable. At 3.30am I gave up trying to sleep and was up by 4am. Perhaps I should have slept on the couch.