When we finally turned the lights out last night, we were plunged into total darkness. No light at all. It was made even more special by the millions of stars that shone in the sky. Such a clear night. We just laid there with the blinds up and watched them. This was perfection. A little while later, The Dog wanted a wee, so Hubby took her out and came back somewhat alarmed. He had turned his torch on and just over the fence, like a ghost, was a huge Highland cow, stood in the middle of the road staring back at him! You don’t expect that when you take your dog out late at night!
We woke about 7.15 to a milky dawn and peered out of the back window. A gang of Highland cows and their calves were on the bank opposite, watching us. Where had they come from?
We had our usual cuppa and biscuits, then tidied away. We had to get to Tarbert for the ferry. We drove down to the ablution block area to get rid of rubbish and sort the toilet out – we were going to live on the edge and not book any campsites – just turn up and fingers crossed we can get in. If not, we’re wild camping and need everything ready!
Afterwards, after doing our checks – doors locked, gas off, electrics off etc, we headed back along this thin coastal road. There are showers and rainbows on the horizon. We got level with our campsite again and came to a grinding halt. The Highland cows are now on the road, causing a small traffic jam and are not for moving. Finally after a couple of toots of the horn and almost nudging them, they conceded and wandered slowly off onto the verge with all the time in the world, while a young calf, slightly spooked, clonked his hoof against the Van. We may have a badge of honour. The trip back seemed a lot easier than last night and the views equally stunning. We past a little tiny school, built out of wood and painted a dark red, in the middle of nowhere, overlooking the sea. It was a lovely dinky building. What a great place to be educated. Further along, a proper tennis court surrounded by wire fencing sat in a dip, again miles from any housing. Why there? Who’s decision? I had a lot of unanswered questions!
We made Tarbert with plenty of time for the ferry to Skye and hunted down a coffee and food. We sat in the car park to eat it and afterwards I walked The Dog around the perimeter of the car park, before realising that the ferry was coming in. Passengers watched it arrive – it looked like it was about to do a Speed 2 and crash into the jetty. It was fascinating to watch it dock as it came in on an angle to the dock and used its bow thrusters to glide towards the slipway. The crew can park this thing better than I can park my car!
We are invited on board. We noticed with some alarm that a huge great lorry is parked next door to us, loaded with 50 or more tall propane gas cylinders. Hope these guys know what they’re doing or we might end up minus a Van. It’s a little bit unnerving to say the least. We headed upstairs and find seats for the crossing – then later, with the weather looking good, head outside on deck for some air. Skye hoved into view and soon we was back starting the Van up, ready to go. The propane lorry was first to go and we all followed him. We climbed out of Uig harbour and followed the main road down to Portree, the landscape just hilly and covered in grass and heather, interspersed with major tree plantations. There are parking lay-bys on this road, spaced at regular intervals, but we noted that all the signs in the run up to these bays read “450 yards”. Did someone over-order these signs by pressing the wrong buttons or was it intentional? Create the lay-by and then figure out 450 yards from there and plant your sign. Order 100 and get 10 free? It kept us amused for a couple of miles.
We don’t want to stay on Skye and wanted to be back on the mainland. It was busier and there was a feeling of a little bit of crass commercialism that irked us a bit after the isolation of the Outer Hebrides. We drove through the magnificent Munro’s huddled in the centre of Skye, brooding and dominating – how on the earth do you walk one of them? Hubby has walked quite a few Munros and was explaining the way up them. Mmmm. I’d be your support team and would be waiting in the pub with a pint for your return, mate.
We continued on, passing little communities and spread out villages. We passed a little white croft with a thatched roof! That’s what a Scottish croft cottage would of looked like! But thatched roofs are horrendously expensive to put up and maintain. There were several houses with corrugated tin roofs which was another alternative, but most had tiled roofs. It struck me earlier that in the early part of the 19th century there was the mass Scottish Clearances where tenants were forced out of their homes all over the Highlands and Islands for various reasons – agricultural, emigration, economic. The population plummeted. Abandoned homes fell into disrepair. So that kind of explains the modernity of the current homes, but it still shouldn’t give some council planning department a carte blanc to build horrendously out of context buildings, so lacking in imagination and forethought, that it’s verging on criminality!
We turned right after about an hour or so of driving, down this tiny single tracked road with some alarming potholes. Hubby wanted to do one last ferry trip – on the Glenelg. He really wanted to do this very short crossing – personally I was baffled by his eagerness, but it could be fun so I went along with it. The road climbed through high moorland heather and bracken, with tree plantations and into high hills. Then we went around a corner and a panorama opened up before us. Mountains, a loch and tiny hamlets. It was absolutely beautiful in the afternoon sun. The road dropped alarmingly, a steep descent – we won’t have any brakes left by the end of this trip – and followed the coast, before abruptly coming to a dead end and a tiny slipway. We had followed the four motorcyclists who had passed us while we let The Dog stretch her legs and now the six of us were on the jetty, taking photos, admiring the scenery, spotting otters and seals and watching the little ferry on the other side.
The ferry started to make its return journey across the tiny strip of water separating the island of Skye with the mainland. In the middle, the water was turbulent, tossing and turning, gushing through the gap. It’s tidal and with the rising waters, it’s squeezed between the two land masses, causing this watery frenzy. The ferry chugged diagonally across, then was caught in the turbulence and looked like it was going to be dragged out to sea, unable to escape. Suddenly, it powered its way through the other side and calmly chugged up to the side of the slipway, with one car onboard. The boat is tiny – it’s essentially a large platform with ramps at one end and it all sits on a pivot. The platform swung across the slipway at an angle, the ramps lowered and the solitary car drove off. We’re not sure where to look first – at this very unique boat or the numerous otters and seals having a field day, feasting on the fish caught up in the tide. It’s Otter Central – there’s at least six popping up their heads and then diving deep. At one point I’m filming the boat on my phone and watching the otters through the binoculars! It’s amazing and I can see why Hubby was so keen to come down here and show me this exquisite natural wonder. We only needed a Sea Eagle to fly past and a pod of porpoises and it would of been perfect!
We jumped into the Van as the motorcyclists boarded first. It’s so tiny this boat, that its only got room for the bikers, us and a Land Rover Discovery! As it’s not a roll on/roll off ferry and actually the bridge of the boat is in the way, the platform pivots around as the boat casts off so you end up facing the right way to exit the other end. It’s apparently the only boat of this type in Europe and one of only three in the world. It is open to the elements for us and the crew who come around asking for payment, accepting cash or card. You stay in your vehicle, so we just hung out of the windows, spotting the otters and seals, joking with the bikers. One of the bikes, a heavy touring one, was perilously close to our front wing and both us and the biker weren’t particularly comfortable, but that was the way we were loaded. We just hope the boat doesn’t lurch or we would have a motorbike shaped dent! Then when we docked, the poor biker had to manoeuvre it away, all under our watchful gaze before mounting and catching up with his mates. Poor chap. We are glad to report, though, that the cow didn’t leave a hoof like print on the side of the Van either. Cows, motorbikes and propane gas cylinders – what a day! Once on dry land, we drove some 400 yards up a steep hairpin and stopped at the cafe for two lattes, two Glenelg Ferry mugs and a t-shirt and sat on a bench overlooking this stretch of water, watching the little ferry go about its business in the afternoon sun. The otters still played in the tidal waters, the seals watched the otters and the ferry brought over two cars and an enormous tractor! We could of stayed all day.
It was with a tinge of reluctance to leave this little piece of glorious Scotland behind. We had already vowed to go back to Lewis and Harris – that needed serious checking out rather than the cursory attention we had given it. This was going to be the route back to those fabulous islands!
Very happy and still wowing about the ferry, we continued along the narrow really rough roads – they don’t believe in flattening any repairs to match the existing tarmac, so the poor Van, The Dog and us got rattled and shaken for quite a few miles. We were heading into Glenshiel and serious Munro country – Hubby explained about the Five Sisters, a brutal walk with only two access points, no escape routes, narrow ridges, drops of 6 foot to seal with and other walking impediments. He wasn’t selling it to me and he did admit that he declined to do that one with his walking mates and headed off with a friend to a convivial pub nearby and ate crab. The road dropped seriously down, through a tunnel of tall conifer trees, which gave way to the most expansive and stunning view. It was almost alpine. Surrounded by tall majestic mountains, a loch licked their bases with little white houses dotted along, hugging a sliver of shoreline. In the sunshine, it was outstandingly beautiful. What a stunning valley.
We started to Google campsites as we had decided to be brave and not book sites in advance from now on. We discovered Glenshiel camping site, just off a main road and pulled in. While we were trying to figure out if it was open or shut or allowed campervans in, a young man bounced out of a car and came over to us. Yes, it was open and we could book and pay online which we did there and then and we were in. The lad was here to check on the ablution block apparently.
We parked on the far side, next to a dry stone wall and collapsed wire fencing where there was a horse chomping at the grass. Actually there were several horses who could easily get into the campsite if they really tried. It was a small site of about a dozen places and some four other campers in tents. We set up camp and tried to find if the nearby pub was doing food. A phone call proved futile, going straight to answer phone and with no call back, we settled with making beans on toast with an egg as a topping – our first time cooking a proper full meal on our little two burner hob and grill. We felt accomplished.
As darkness fell, Hubby and The Dog went for a walk. The poor hound hasn’t had a walk really today, enduring two ferry trips and a long drive. She was in a surprisingly good mood considering. The back seat is her default travelling position now. We settled down in our little home on wheels with a glass of wine and cheese and biscuits. We were doing well, the three of us – we hadn’t fallen out, there had been no arguments, we had an excellent system of setting up the Van and putting it all away. We were doing good.
So another day tomorrow. No plans, just a vague idea of doing a walk somewhere and whether to stay here another night. What a lovely feeling to have an empty head and no pressure to do anything. Making the most of this while it lasts.