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UK drive

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Ben Dark and his crew are on the road again — this time driving from the top to the bottom of the United Kingdom.

John O'Groats is arguably the northernmost tip of the British Isles, and is where all top-to-toe of Britain trips begin.

A mound and flag pole mark the site where Dutchman, Jan de Groot, built his famous house during the 1488-1513 reign of James IV. His seven sons quarrelled about precedence, so their father built an octagonal house with eight doors and an eight sided table so no one occupied the head.

Jan de Groot ran a ferry to Orkney charging twopence a trip. The twopenny coin was known as the "groat", hence his name being changed. He is buried in Canisbay churchyard where his tombstone can be seen.

Inverness evolved from an ancient fort to being the capital of the Scottish Highlands. It is a vibrant city with the beautiful River Ness flowing through its centre. Forty-two kilometres east is the royal burgh of Elgin which was founded in the 10th century by David I. A ruined castle on the road between Aberdeen to Inverness is reputedly the scene of King Duncan's murder by Macbeth.

The Island of Skye off the west coast of mainland Scotland is the largest and best known of the Inner Hebrides. Referred to as The Misty Isle, it is renowned for its natural beauty, wildlife and history. Its deeply indented coastline means you are never far from the sea. Conversely, its hills are great favourites with climbers and walkers. Whatever you choose to do on Skye, there is plenty of magnificent scenery to accompany you.

Most parts of the world have their eccentrics, and Ben came across a couple on his drive. Actually, he needed to take a boat to meet one of them — The Leopard Man — the world's most tattooed person. The 68-year-old Tom Leppard was once a special forces soldier in Rhodesia and cycled the length of Africa before returning to London, where he spent much time in a tattooist's chair. He just wants to be left alone and live a reclusive but full life.

Glasgow has some of the UK's finest Victorian architecture using red and honey-coloured sandstone, Italianate steeples and medieval spires next to neo-gothic towers, art nouveau and the titanium, glass and steel of the modern city. It has acclaimed museums and galleries and a year-long calendar of festivals and special events.

Glasgow and the Clyde Valley offer lots for those who enjoy opera, theatre, concerts and clubbing. Shopping for antiques, craft and enjoying global cuisine add enjoyment to your visit.

Just 292 kilometres across the English border is Yorkshire, a place of fascinating history, romance, violence, heroism and adversity spanning 2000 years. It has been the scene of Roman invasions, Viking settlements, Saxon successes, monarchy-changing battles, the foundation of Methodism, aristocracy and the industrial revolution. A place of great industry it has centuries of pride in textiles, quarrying, mining, fishing and steel.

Captain James Cook set out from Whitby on his voyage of exploration, William Wilberforce set out from Hull on his mission to abolish slavery and the industrial revolution was born in the South Pennines.

York, a Roman stronghold and Viking capital, is one of Europe's greatest medieval cities and has the biggest Gothic Cathedral in northern Europe.

It is also where Ben met his second eccentric. Jake Mangleworzl has a waterwheel pumping water to his rooftop bath. He has a tomb all prepared for his burial and 14 toilets, with a view, which cascade down a flight of stairs. The non-stop talker who claims to be the sanest man on the planet once went into Armley Gaol, just to see what it was like!

So if you are lucky enough to be driving through Scotland and the north of England, keep your eyes open for Ben's new friends!


John O'Groats to Yorkshire.


Emirates has return flights to the UK. Valid for sale until May 5, 2006 and for travel between October 4 and 31, 2006. Taxes are not included and conditions apply.

Fares from;

  • Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne, $1590
  • Perth, $1700
  • Adelaide, $1915
  • Darwin, $1985

Please note that the prices listed are valid at the time of filming.

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