TO THE BLACK ISLE AND BACK VIA WESTMORLAND AND THE A9

Guildford to the Black Isle is around six hundred miles and the travel time about 11 hours.   The estimation foodwise for serious snackers it is at least five coffees, two fast meals and thousands of wine gums per head.

The four of us, and the dog, decided to tackle this in two stages.  We set off in mid-afternoon clearing the M25 and the M40 before rush hour.   Smooth flowing motorways and steady caffeine bowled us north landing us at   Westmorland and the Tebay Services with the last of daylight.

Westmorland Hotel did not have quite the ring of the Ritz but it did have rooms and would take the dog – both top priorities as we had scrilled* (scrolled in panic*) through the internet at 4.30 that afternoon.   The bonus – it was just a mile north of junction 38 on the northbound M6.  The rest was quite a surprise.

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The AA rated three star hotel is filled with wood and light and sits so completely in the  purple green of the hills that the motorway is forgotten.  You cannot see the huge road and you do not notice it.

The rooms are comfortable and individual, the staff friendly and the breakfast excellent. The hotel was full when we stayed, both on the way up and down.  There were dog lovers, families, business travellers and retired couples all tucking into full breakfasts, coffees and croissants.

We left mid-morning on the Friday feeling strong with fresh food, and confident that Scotland’s roads would deliver more of the same.

Perhaps Scotland’s roads do … but where?  The views are frequently spiked with wind turbines and good coffee is hard to find.  The grey stone emptiness of Cairn Lodge services on the M74 sank our songs and the final leg of the journey, the A9 between Perth and Inverness, skinned them to a tired whisper.

Thankfully three happy days on the Black Isle followed.

That cheerful mood lasted until we were about halfway back to Perth when a few corners ahead of us on the A9 a tragic collision smashed debris in all directions and staggered the traffic into a slow moving trickle.  Perth was a static dot with serviceless miles still to go.

Eventually we reached the Westmorland Hotel, for the second time that trip, at around midnight.  It still smiled and was just as comfortable.

The next morning, nervous of being caught without rations again, we visited the Tebay Services farm shop, unique amongst motorway shops in that it bothers to be tempting.  On the southbound side Tebay Services has just been awarded a five star rating by VisitEngland, the only motorway services to have been given this grading.

We topped off our supplies with the chilli sauce, Trees can’t Dance and a copy of ‘Och Wheesht and Get Oan Wae It‘ – Scotland’s version of ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’.

We should have bought the wee book for the way north.  The entry on page one would have clarified the A9’s hospitality code in advance.

“You’ll have had yer tea ….”.

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