Scottish passports and the Scottish-English border

Most people have assumed that an independent Scotland won’t introduce passport controls at the Scottish-English border.

I’m sure that’s not the intention, but as a blog posting on Better Nation pointed out today, Scotland will probably have to join Schengen at some point post-independence, simply because England will be seen as the continuation of the UK, so Scotland will be treated as a new EU member, and they generally don’t get many opt-outs (which will also mean that Scotland will eventually need to join the Euro).

Personally I’d be delighted if Scotland joined Schengen, given that we tend to travel much more often to Schengen countries (such as Denmark, Germany, France and Italy) than to England. Who knows, it might even convince the English to join, too.

Writing this blog posting, I was a bit surprised that I couldn’t find a realistic mock-up of what Scottish passports will look post-independence, given that the layout of EU passports is heavily regulated.

It didn’t take me long to make one myself in the Gimp, though. I made the assumption that it’ll be the lion rampant that will be on the front page, although it might of course be some other emblem.

How to get rid of visitors

I think I mentioned that we spent last week in Keith with the rest of Phyllis’ family. We drove up to our holiday home via Pitlochry, but we returned via Urquhart Castle and Glencoe (see the map on the left).

The idea was to have a quick look at Urquhart Castle during our lunch break.

However, when we got there, we realised they had built a wall and planted trees to prevent visitors from seeing the castle without paying the entrance fee of £7.20 for adults and £4.30 for children between 5 and 15. This would have meant that for all of us to get in we would have had to pay £57.40 – a hefty price to eat our sandwiches in a ruin.

Needless to say, we tried to climb the wall to take a few photos and then ate our lunch in the car park, followed by a toilet break in the next village because they wouldn’t even let you use their toilets without paying the entrance fee.

As far as I could gather, almost nobody paid to get in. I wouldn’t rule out that many tourists would pay that much during the summer holidays, but they would definitely make more money in April if they lowered the price.

What gets me is also that they had absolutely no rebates for families. If our kids had been closer together in age (e.g., 13, 11, 9, 7 and 5 instead of 13, 11, 5, 3 and 1), a single visit would have cost us £35.90. That kind of price just prevents families with many kids from going altogether. Will people setting the price for attractions never understand that large families typically have less money left to spend on entertainment than families with 1.4 kids? Of course it’s our own choice to have many kids, but the result is that we just don’t go to places that charge a high entrance fee for each child.

That said, it looks like you can get free admission to lots of castles including Urquhart Castle if you join Historic Scotland, which costs £79.80 per year for two adults with up to six kids. That actually is a fairly reasonable price – I just wish all the individual attractions would adopt a similar pricing scheme.

Camping is good fun for babies

Amaia illuminating herself
Originally uploaded by PhylB

Before we embarked on our epic journey of England, we were a tiny bit concerned whether Amaia at six months was too young to cope with the travails of camping.

She loved it, however! (Except that she thought we travelled too far between campsites.)

As the photo shows, she enjoyed playing with the lantern. She also enjoyed sleeping with her mum and dad in a double sleeping bag, listening to the noises through the canvas, and being around all her siblings all the time.

She complained one night when Phyllis was taking her to bed while the rest of us was having dinner outside – she wanted to sit together with us and have a chat and a chip.

Of course it wouldn’t really work if you were too keen on sterilised bottles with formula, but for a breastfed baby who’s happy to supplement it with real, dirty food, it’s a great holiday.

Ammonite hunters

An ammonite and I
Originally uploaded by viralbus

Marcel, Charlotte and I left Phyllis and the wee ones on the sandy beach in Lyme Regis and walked over to the Jurassic cliffs on Manmouth Beach.

We had heard it was a good place to find ammonites, so I was hoping to find an incomplete chunk or two.

What I didn’t expect was to find the beach littered with huge, complete ammonite shells like the one on the photo!

On the other hand, we didn’t find any small ones we could take home. Whether that was because they had already been removed by other fossil hunters, or whether only the big ones fossilise well, I don’t know.

What I do know is that we met several other people with big hammers that they used to split the stones with. We had to restrict ourselves to chucking the stones onto the hard ground, which is not quite as efficient.

So next time, we’ll bring hammers, chisels and a sturdy rucksack!

Home again

We got home from our camping holiday at 6pm today, having left home at 10am 16 days before.

We stayed at four different campsites:

  1. Four nights in a small campsite just outside Bridlington in Yorkshire, from where we went on daytrips to York.
  2. Four nights in a large cosmopolitan campsite in Abbey Wood in East London.
  3. Six nights in a large campsite in Paignton (the English Riviera), from where we went on daytrips to the Eden Project in Cornwall, to Dartmoor, and to Lyme Regis in Dorset.
  4. Two nights in a farm campsite in Llangollen (northeast Wales).

I’ll write more about the details later, but we actually had good fun, although it was hard to squeeze two adults, five kids, our tent and everything else into our seven-seater without a roofbox.

Google Maps claims the trip was 1249 miles (2011 km), but including our daytrips and detours we actually clocked up 1907 miles (3069 km).

However, for now I’m most of all happy to be home in my own bed – airbeds on steep slopes don’t make for good sleeping.

Places to see in and around England?

Possible summer holiday map
Originally uploaded by viralbus

Our plan for this summer is to fill our Citroën C8 up with two adults, five kids, a tent, sleeping bags and lots of other stuff, and then drive clockwise round England, possibly taking a small detour to France and Belgium, and possibly another one to Wales (see the map).

We think the kids ought to see London, I would quite like to see Dartmoor, and a friend recommended that we take the kids to Bridlington.

However, I’m actually writing this because I’m interested in your suggestions.

Where should we go? Where are there beaches, museums, castles or rollercoasters that would thrill five kids ranging between 6 months and 13 years, preferably without breaking the bank?

Under the ash cloud

Anna in Edinburgh airport
Originally uploaded by PhylB

I’m blogging this from Aarhus, which is not how things were supposed to be.

We were supposed to spend a week in Copenhagen, celebrate my dad’s 70th birthday, let Anna play with her first and second cousins (Ursula, Aya, Karl and Olivia), show off Amaia to everybody, and then fly home to Scotland last Friday.

However, Thursday morning Phyllis’s parents contacted us about an ash cloud.

At first, we thought it was a delayed April’s Fool joke, but as soon as we switched on the TV, it became obvious that it was no laughing matter.

By Thursday evening it had become obvious that our flight home would get cancelled.

Friday morning I went to the main railway station to see what they could do.

I was offered a train to Amsterdam with changes in Fredericia, Padborg, Hamburg, Münster, Enschede and Amstetten, and then a ferry to Newcastle. There were only two problems: Firstly, the train was leaving an hour and a half later, which meant that I had to call Phyllis to get her to pack our bags urgently and rush to the station. Secondly, to get the ferry ticket, I had to line up in a separate queue, although they assured me that the ticket should be available.

I then queued for more than an hour, and by the time I got to the front, there were no more ferry tickets left.

I consulted Phyllis, who had already arrived, and we decided to go to Amsterdam anyway in the hope that there would be more ferry tickets available there (and we would be much closer to the English Channel if trains or ferries became available there).

So we rushed off to the train and started working our way down Europe.

However, when we reached Neumünster (north of Hamburg), the train stopped and we were told to change to a replacement bus.

Because we had lots of luggage and two small girls in a damaged buggy, we were the last to get to the bus, so by the time we got to Hamburg Hauptbahnhof, the train was long gone.

I went to another long queue, and then another, and then we were lucky: A nice lady in her fifties had a look at my wee girls and asked whether I really wanted to spend the night in Duisburg Station. I said no, and she then offered us a free hotel room for the night.

Of course I said yes, but I got a shock when I saw our room: A suite with two queen-sized beds in Park Hyatt just round the corner from the main station, with breakfast included! It was the most luxurious hotel room I’ve ever been in!

The next morning we returned to the station to continue our journey to Amsterdam.

However, a technical problem meant the train was suddenly changed to take off from Hamburg Harburg, but again our slow progress with our wee girls meant that we missed the train.

I asked when the next connection was, and I was told that we wouldn’t reach Amsterdam till dinner time.

We concluded that this would be useless, given that the news programmes were claiming that there were no hotel rooms left in Amsterdam because so many people were stranded in Schiphol.

So we asked to get back to Denmark, which they agreed to do.

This time we got onto a direct train, and we got to my parents’ flat in Aarhus just in time for dinner.

In the evening we booked a new flight for Friday (Billund-Edinburgh), which is also when the three big kids are now supposed to return from France, so hopefully the ash cloud will disappear before then.

If it stays in place, we don’t know what we’ll do. Rent a minibus, drive down to France, get the kids, drive up to the Channel, take a ferry and then drive home, perhaps?