Slept well again once The Dog had vacated our bed and we could get comfy. We woke up to broken cloud and sunshine and hardly any wind. We have tea and biscuits as we wake up and later treat ourselves to toast and tea. We get things ready – we have a ferry to catch!
We ended up talking to our fellow VW neighbour and got some good ideas off him about awnings which we are lacking at the moment. This made us a bit late, so we finalised the last Van ablutions and headed around the corner to the Ullapool ferry terminal. Steered into a parking spot by a jovial man in a hi-vis, we had a walk around town to kill time before we boarded the ship. We grabbed a coffee and get back to the Van just in time before a big black cloud dropped its contents on Ullapool. Soon we are invited to board the boat – we drive on and parked in neat rows as instructed before heading upstairs to the lounge. There are certain areas for dogs, so we end up at the back of the boat, overlooking the last of the cars and its rear gate. We can watch the mainland disappear!
The Dog watches the crew unhook the massive ropes and slowly we head out into Loch Broom. The sun is shining, but menacing clouds are in the wings. We have tall windows with splendid views. The Dog settles down – another mad adventure with her humans. As we head out into deeper waters, several car alarms go off as the boat’s engines vibrate the whole vessel and we think our Van joined in the cacophony. Ullapool soon disappears and it’s a smooth crossing. We can see big weather coming too – it’s so changeable. The Dog settled on our coats, growling at a Spaniel who got too close for comfort and every so often, I took her for a limited walk around the deck.
Finally after two and half hours we pulled into Stornaway on the island of Lewis – it’s raining heavily. This weather caught us halfway across, bringing a mist down and limited visibility. I didn’t really know what to expect of Stornaway – small quaint town of independent shops and traditional houses, but was alarmed to see a large Tesco’s by the harbour. Well, they have to shop somewhere, but just wasn’t expecting a national supermarket! Scotland still recognises Sundays as a day of rest, so everything closes which is a great. I love it. So much better than England’s 24/7, everything on tap culture. Though you have to be a little organised and have stuff in ready for a day of no shopping. The Scots also require people to wear face masks/social distance etc which is great too. At least you know where you stand rather than England’s current “well it’s up to you” approach to Covid.
We followed the satnav out of town – it’s actually reasonably large and like any other suburban area, but we are soon out in rather flat, slightly undulating monotonous miles of peat bog territory, the lashing rain not helping the picture. The good people of Lewis like a lot of “Caution” signs whether it be lorries turning, children crossing, concealed entrances or other impediments, but loved the idea that they had a cycle lane on this road too which is more than a lot of cities! We turned right and gradually the undulations turned into more substantial hills and it got wilder and wilder. Now this is more like it. It started to have a primitive beauty about it. The road started to become a single track road with passing places, then back to two lane and then back to single – it kept you on your toes. It had been well tarmacked too and gave us a smooth ride – probably one of the best roads in west Highland Scotland. The road signs were in Gaelic with the English underneath which took some getting use to.
We turned again, past this beautiful little bay and then down a spectacular steep valley – this was just wonderful. The new road ran parallel to the original single track – you could catch numerous glimpses of it. The new road had been created by blasting through the rock to create cuttings. It was pretty substantial as we kept noting these cuttings for several miles. It must of cost a fortune, but must of been cheaper than widening the original road which seemed to border bogs. It seemed all rather brutal. That rock had been there for millions of years until man had to touch it and kind of ruin it, but it wasn’t an eyesore at all. There were a few ugly road signs advertising sea trips and other diversions and an oddly oversized blue sign, several miles after it had gone into single track, declaring that the road was single track with passing places. It was almost that it was a spare that nobody knew what to do with, so it was plonked wherever so they didn’t have to take it back to the depot.
This road was full of surprises – we were half way to the west coast when in the middle of nowhere, there was a single low building (it was actually a converted shipping container) that was a pizza shack for takeaways. I looked for the bustling community nearby, but there was just a single house up the road. How did this business survive? There was obviously a demand for it, but just couldn’t see it. Perhaps they did Deliveroo. A little further on, we pulled up a by an isolated postbox opposite an equally isolated house to post our postcards that I had written on the boat. (Otherwise they’d never posted, come on tour with us and end up getting posted in my home village). Underneath, it informed me that there was a collection Monday to Friday at 4.15pm and one on Saturday at 12.15. It was just brilliant.
The scenery got better as we carried on – we went through a couple of little hamlets which had streetlights! What an abomination!!! In the middle of nowhere, a perfect place for dark skies and star gazing and you have to contend with bloody streetlights and the associated light pollution. For goodness sake, what madness!
Houses were scattered throughout the region, mainly bungalows chalets with the odd house. There were no traditional stone crofter cottages to be seen, though on closer inspection, a few looked like they had been updated with either pebble dash or render, and then painted white, but no actual stone showing. It struck us that they had probably been pebbledashed for insulation purposes – our own stone house could be cold and always has draughts – here with nothing to stop the Atlantic wind, a stone cottage would be a nightmare to keep warm. Some people hadn’t bothered with the white paint and left the pebbledash in its natural dull brown, which wasn’t particularly attractive. There were quite modern bungalows so we presumed that there was once a stone cottage, too expensive to renovate and so cheaper to put in a new build. A lot of them wouldn’t be out of place in a suburban setting to be honest and one or two were positively down right ugly with no thought into reconciling it with the local environment. There was the odd “Grand Design” property, all wood and high windows, but mainly it was these low bungalows shielded by conifers. The population, though seemingly sparse, was considerable for such an isolated spot down a dead end road – who set up home here, what did they do or was it all holiday homes?
The scattered community of Ardroil heralded the arrival to our destination and dispelled our worry about the lack of amenities. We came across a small shop (albeit shut) with a couple of petrol pumps outside and there was a board pointing down a track marked “restaurant”. A large mast nearby gave us 4G for our phones, the internet and the outside world. We were well and truly catered for. We turned right down a narrow track towards a scruffy little car park and a long low shed. This is our campsite for the next two nights. Through a gate, a gravelled area signified our parking area – enough room for 10 campervans. There was no electric hook ups so we were off grid. It started to rain again as we tried to work out the most favourable angle to park – it’s howling a hoolie too – to protect us from the elements but getting a view too. Finally we agreed and settled for the side door to face inland, the wind and rain battering us on the other side. We set up and decided to go for a walk and investigate the area as the rain had finally stopped – well for the time being. First we checked out the facilities. The long low building was the loo block with five doors, but only one is open. Inside is an utilitarian room of walled melamine, but bright, clean and tidy with a loo, shower and basin fitted out for disabled people to have access too. It was quite pleasant and I’m not one for ablution blocks, as you know. It was even better than the one last night, which personally needs a bit of a makeover. I was impressed. There was even a packet of wet wipes for you to wipe the toilet seat after use! There were bins for recycling and general rubbish, a chemical toilet, taps to fill up your van – everything you’d expect on a regular manned campsite. Okay, it was a bit higgedly piggedly, rough around the edges and a bit worn, but we hadn’t expected any of this at all – it was a bonus. It was all based on honesty with you posting your money in a box. No rules or regulations. No reception. No staff. Just rock up and camp and look after the place while you’re at it, thank you. It was just perfect.
The Dog was excited and eager to walk, so we clipped her on the lead and walked along a path through scrubby grass which fell away to reveal the most amazing sandy beach and waves crashing onto the sand. We let The Dog off the lead and she just ran in delight, like she was a puppy. The Dog had hit heaven. We stood and drunk it all in – a wide arc of golden sand, soft to walk on, with a rocky coastline and low mountains in the background. A squally shower swept through, making us wet, but the wind was so strong we soon dried. We strolled along, looking through our binoculars while The Dog gambolled along with a big happy face. This is worth two and a half hours stuck on a noisy boat. Another shower sends us back to the Van much to The Dog’s disgust, but we soon realise that it’s like turning a tap on and off. Rain, no rain, rain, no rain. So we donned our waterproof gear and go out again and investigate further. There’s nothing like standing on a deserted beach in autumn, watching waves crashing against rocks and the wind whistling. One of the best feelings ever.
We suddenly realised that the tide was coming and doing a bit of a pincer movement – on one side we watched as it insidiously crept over the sand and could easily cut somebody off. A deepening black cloud out west looked full of water, so we headed back to the Van. The sky seemed to have many layers of different clouds, some still, some scudding with little breaks revealing a little bit of blue. Back at the Van, more campers had arrived – there’s now five vans of various sizes including a motorhome. We kept our side door open and relaxed – it’s not really that cold out of the wind. The Dog watched the world from her vantage point on her mat. We decided not to pop the top up tonight – it’s quite breezy out there and didn’t want any damage, so we were slightly doubled up as we settled down with wine and nibbles. It gradually got dark, so we reluctantly closed our door and made some tea. It’s pitch black outside, but the rain has stopped. The wind gently rocked our Van from time to time. The Dog has taken over the back seat again and is dreaming vividly, paws twitching. Perhaps she’s chasing those sandpipers on the beach again. We turned out the light and plunged ourselves into pitch blackness. Boy it was dark.
Tomorrow the forecasters say it will be sunny all day and be very pleasant. Perfect timing. We’re planning a walk – where to we don’t know. Probably back on the beach and as far as we can go. Who knows. Roll on tomorrow.