It all started with the Top Gear challenge. Well, to be precise, it all started some 10 or so years ago when Mr and Mrs Lighty’s lovely friends Georgina and Luke met at St. Andrews University. Ten years and an engagement later, we were delighted to be making the journey north, back to the very place they met, to celebrate their wedding day.
This is where the Top Gear challenge came into things, as this short break was going to be as much about the journey as the destination, not least because it was to be our first road trip with a 9 week old Baby Lighty. And so it was that five friends set off to converge on St. Andrews, sending regular updates of their whereabouts via Whatsapp, Top Gear challenge style, to make the journey more fun by seeing who was to get there first.
As with all of our road trips, Mr Lighty and I do enjoy a little stop somewhere pretty, usually where tea and cake is involved. This was particularly important on this first road trip with Baby Lighty, to give him a break from his car seat and a feed. As National Trust members, we knew that the properties are geared up for family visits, plus we would be able to visit somewhere interesting in the process.
Our first pit stop en route North was therefore at Belton House. The property didn’t disappoint on the family-friendly front, with a sheltered courtyard tea room and a dedicated parent room. With Baby Lighty strapped into his baby carrier, we set off to explore the formal gardens and the house, which was built for Sir John Brownlow in the 1680s. Both Mr Lighty and I commented that we’ll have to go back when the Little Lighty is not so little in order for him to run riot in the children’s playground and wonder at the herd of deers on site.
We journeyed further North, and after a long expedition on the A1M whereby we kept dreading the red glare of brake lights as the traffic ahead of us slowed once again, we eventually made it to the Best Western Plus Hotel Gibside. The hotel and the pretty village of Whickham, a suburb of Newcastle, were a very welcome sight, and after checking into our plush room, there was just enough time to dine in the trendy lounge bar before hitting the hay ready for the next day’s travelling.
With a sunny view over Newcastle and tummies full of English breakfast, Saturday morning was the turn of the National Trust’s Cragside House. The drive to the property was stunning, through rolling fields and with sunshine sparkling off of the property’s lake. We refeulled with gluten free scones and tea before meandering through the maze of rooms that make up the Victorian house, and then continued our journey further still.
Some hours and some frustration at several tractors blocking country lanes later, we eventually made it to Scotland in the late afternoon, allowing us just enough time to take a wander around historic St. Andrews to see the legendary golf course, the beach made famous by Chariots of Fire and the abbey ruins, before driving off to the nearby fishing village of Anstruther for a gluten free fish and chip supper.
The wedding day dawned with a fine mist and a light shower over the golf course and North Sea which the breakfast room at the Old Manor Hotel in Lundin Links overlooked. The bride didn’t need to worry though, as as approached St. Salvator’s Chapel in St. Andrews where the wedding was to be held, the sunshine broke through the cloud and a glorious Scottish day appeared.
St. Salvator’s Chapel is one of the two university chapels, stunning with its beautifully restored stained glass windows and is a rare example of late gothic architecture. Baby Lighty particularly enjoyed his first taste – or should that be first hearing? – of proper Scottish bagpipes, although I don’t think he was such a fan of the chapel’s organ or the cry of “hip, hip, hooray” during the photographs! The most beautiful aspect of the day was the bride, of course, who positively bounced her way down the aisle!
The day was simply lovely, with reception drinks and the famous St. Andrew’s Janetta’s ice cream, whose parlour boasts over 200 flavours, in the university quad, followed by dinner, drinks and Ceilidh dancing in the university’s stately Lower and Upper College Halls
opposite the chapel. What more could we ask for on this first trip to Scotland as a family?!
On the Monday following the wedding, we began our descent South. We arrived at our final hotel in the early afternoon, with the idea of having some time to explore the resort of Whitley Bay properly. Unfortunately, Whitely Bay left a lot to be desired. We were expecting a fun seaside town, but what we got was a rather rundown high street, made worse by the cold and drizzle, and very little besides.
Just as we were about to put the stay down to a one off bad travel decision, the town redeemed itself somewhat with the Bayside Café. Yes, the restaurant may offer very simple fare, but the staff were welcoming, the décor pleasant and they had gluten free pasta! Having enjoyed a real ice cream milkshake as dessert, the sun had made a return and we took a stroll along the admittedly beautiful promenade and beach towards Blyth Lighthouse.
After what felt like a hasty retreat from Whitley Bay the next morning, our final stop of the trip was in Harrogate. How we kicked ourselves for not staying here instead! The spa town is full of quirky shops and independent cafes, and as well as taking in the architecture, we discovered the beauty of the extremely well-kept Valley Gardens as we pushed Baby Lighty in the pram in the early afternoon sunshine.
After nearly 1000 miles, what a journey we’d all had, both physically and metaphorically. Oh and who was the winner of the Top Gear challenge? Well it certainly wasn’t the Lighty Family with all of those stops!