Power walking down the drive, tears in my eyes from leaving Hagrid behind, I suddenly remember I've forgotten the cheese. I run back, much to Olly's dismay, raid the fridge, try not to make eye contact with the cat and start running towards the airport. Olly has gone on ahead pushing our big bags on the sack barrow. My "hand luggage" is pretty heavy, and I give up running when I get to the post office. No sign of a plane yet.
The long and many legged journey home for Christmas has just begun. The walk to the airport is followed by the short flight to Kirkwall, where we fill up on curry at the Indian Garden for dinner, before heading to Stromness to sleep in the car.
We awake at sparrow's fart to board the ferry to Scrabster. I hate early mornings and boats so I go back to sleep in the lounge. We arrive the other end and head straight for Lidl and their warm pastries. I can't resist buying a cute cat bed for Hagrid, despite Olly insisting we don't have room in the car.
After a quiet drive down to Inverness, admiring all the Christmas lights outside people's homes as we pass through all the wee villages, we head for the shops - a few last minute Cristmassy bits, insulation for Wanda's windows and food for our New Years trip to the Cairngorms. We'll be getting back late to Inverness when we fly back so we're getting organised!
We've decided to park in Nairn, to save on airport parking charges, and get the bus in. I'm assured by many timetables and websites where to get the bus in Nairn. We're there 15 minutes early and feeling good about how our journey's going so far. 15 minutes come and go, so do another 10 minutes. Olly walks to the end of the road, and then towards the bus station, just in time to see the bus to the airport pulling away. Pleading with the bus driver to pull in at the next lay by he runs back down the road and I start running (/hobbling with all 40+kg of luggage). The bus whizzes past without even slowing. We're devastated. The next bus won't get us to the airport in time. At this moment a lady stops at the junction in her car and asks where I'm headed, she signals for me to get in and I can't believe our luck. A Christmas miracle brought by a Christmas angel! Olly jumps in and she drives 25 minutes out of her way to take us to the airport. Rosemary is the owner of Inveran Lodge in Nairn, we talk about the kindness of strangers and she explains how she's wanting to put more kindness into the world. I insist she takes our left over advent goodies (individually wrapped and sent by my mum) as a small thank-you.
When we get inside the airport our flight is delayed (Sod's law). So, with nothing else to do, we relax and order food. As our flight edges later and later we keep an eye on the train times and connections taking us from Gatwick to Shepreth, near Cambridge.
30.5 hours since leaving our house on North Ronaldsay we arrive at Shepreth station where Olly's mum, Helen, is waiting for us. As we walk back down the platform to cross the tracks another train approaches and we are stuck behind the level crossing barriers for another 5 minutes. So close and yet, so far...
After a lovely Christmas catching up with friends and family we head back to Inverness for a few days in the Cairngorms over New Year. I am eager to try out all the winter kit I got for Christmas in the hills. On New Years Eve we head up to Coire an t-Sneachda ("Corrie of the Snow") for my first winter climb!
After a wee nap in the car we walk into Newtonmore for their Hogmanay festivities. We walk up the high street where crowds are gathered in and outside the pubs. At half past 11 torches are lit and the procession is led in 2 groups by bagpipers, one starting at the Glen Hotel in the South, and one starting at the Balavil in the North. They meet in the middle and we continue as one large group to a field. There is a stage for live music, free drams of locally produced Stag's Breath whisky liquer, and free Walkers shortbread (how wonderfully Scottish!). Small bonfires are made from piles of torches, the merry revellers dancing round. At midnight they burst into Auld Lang Syne and fireworks light up the nights sky. Groups of teenegars, friends, families, young and old, residents and visitors, are all brought together to celebrate in this charming village.
The rest of the week was a bit washed out. With not a lot of snow on the hills and punishing winds we stayed low for some lovely walks through the Caledonian forests, around Loch Insh, pine-fringed Loch Morlish and stunning Ryvoan Pass in Glen More.