The morning is warm, but a foggy mist has descended and it’s very damp. Tea and biscuits in bed – I’m dreading getting back on the scales back home with all this decadence – before doing our morning rituals. We’re heading to Dumfries and Galloway after our lovely host, suggested Portpatrick, near Stranraer as a lovely spot. It’s nearly five hours away.
We headed out onto the Fort William road, it’s quite misty here, bordering on foggy – driving in and out of little banks of lingering mist, but as we head towards Fort William, it starts to lift and leaves wisps of cloud drifting and meandering between the mountains, all very atmospheric. It’s beautiful. We stopped at Fort William to top up with fuel and headed down to Ballachulish and onto Glencoe. The sun tries to come out, lighting up the valleys. The colours are amazing – really deep enhanced browns and greens, with purples and blues in the shadows. This is nature at its best. Photos just don’t capture the panoramic beauty here, the views, the colours changing constantly- you just can’t keep up. We entered Glencoe, a fabulous valley of steep sided mountains and far reaching views. We passed the Glencoe Ski Centre and dropped into Rannoch Moor, an inhospitable bog area with small lochs dotted with islands. It is beautifully desolate – a nearby mountain has fingers of cloud covering its summit, as if it would be ripped off any minute. Around the corner, it had changed – now it looked like a witches boiling cauldron, the magical vapours of the potion overspilling down the sides. If we had done that train trip today, it would of been spectacular. As we headed to Tyndrum, it got dark and broody – the predicted bad weather with warnings of heavy rain was coming over. We passed through Tyndrum and onto Crianlarich, our lunch destination for yesterday.
Passing Loch Lomond, the heavens truly opened and you could barely see the loch. Just a blanket of mist. We have followed the A82 road since Fort William, an interesting road to say the least. A two lane stretch of tarmac, up in the glens its road surface is suffering in parts – either potholed or badly repaired – the Van doesn’t appreciate such impediments and makes us wince as it bounces noisily over them. But it gives us a good ride most of the way. Hugging the side of Loch Lomond, it gets very narrow in places – a rock wall one side and the waters of the loch on the other (albeit with barriers). Huge lorries use this road too, so despite the speed limit being an official 50mph, (not that you want to do 50 in the first place) you’re lucky to do more than 30 and usually crawl as some terrified tourist squeezes past a hulking truck whose driver is so used to this road, that he barely touches his brakes. It’s an interesting road to say the least and not one of our favourites. At Tarbet, a good two thirds down, it opens up into a proper wide standard road, the frustrated held up driver overtaking with abandon after being stuck behind traffic for so long.
We rock up to the edge of Dunbarton, a satellite town of Glasgow, which throws you, without much warning, straight into urbanisation – retail parks, McDonalds, drive thru Costa Coffees and road madness. It’s a bit of a wake up call after the sedentary life we had been following. The rain has eased again and starting to brighten up – we negotiated the Erskine Bridge and the M8 motorway slicing through Glasgow, the traffic starting to snarl up. Drivers swap lanes constantly – it’s mayhem. Get us out of here! Glasgow seems to be a sprawling city – it looks like as if it was dropped from a height and it went splat – it seems endless. We pulled off to join the M77, taking us south into Ayrshire and the west coast, the traffic finally easing. It’s undulating countryside, a mix of pasture and stubby grassland. We bypassed the town of Ayr and hit the coast road . The weather and the views are improving. The countryside is constantly changing now – distant hills, farmland, deep valleys and a coastal road with spectacular views along a rugged rocky coastline with waves crashing. Out to sea was Alisa Craig, an uninhabited island home to gannets and puffins, looking like it had been plonked into the Irish Sea. It looked very majestic.
We drove past the big ferry terminals of Cairnryan – one operated by Stenaline to Belfast and other P&O to Larne before dropping into Stranraer. The satnav seemed to take us on a tour of the back streets before burping us back out into countryside. We then turned right for the 5 mile journey into Portpatrick – we don’t go through the village, but circumvented it to the various static caravan sites that sit on the edge of the village. It’s not singing what that lady had suggested. We turned into the final site, slightly frayed at the edges and checked in. We’re directed to the far end of the site, on a field overlooking the sea with about ten other caravans/motorhomes. We couldn’t get a pitch with electric and end up on a hard standing area, more akin to a small car park, well away from the others. It looked like we had fallen out with everybody. We didn’t feel comfortable – there was no protection from the elements, totally exposed. We had booked two nights here and mulled whether to go back to reception, ask for our money back and find somewhere else, but after travelling all day and gasping for a cuppa, we resolved to stay at least one night, eventually electing to camp nearer to our fellow campers on a grassy area, but still feeling very much Billy No Mates.
We checked out the ablution block, a shabby affair of peeling paint and seeing better days. We stood outside hesitantly – this could be grim inside, but once inside, it was very clean and tidy though a little dated. We found out later that a new block was under construction – a little way up, an unrendered rectangular building stood, obviously not quite ready for our arrival, but not far off. The existing loo block had a fantastic Covid system (Scotland are still quite strict) whereby you took a stone out of the saucepan next to the entrance and took it with you inside. This signified to the next person wanting the facilities that someone was already in there and they had to wait til you came out. When you finished, you just returned the stone back into the saucepan which was filled with water to clean it. The girls had a pan with a white stone, the boys had a separate pan with a black stone. A strange but novel way of social distancing, but it worked.
We decided to walk into the village about half an hour along a coastal footpath, past the ruined castle of Duneskey, clinging to the edge of the cliff. The path dropped down onto the disused railway, walking through the deep cutting before popping us above the village. We walked down a lane past a rather fancy hotel/restaurant and checked it out. Sorry no dogs. We dropped further down into a pretty curving harbour surrounded by equally pretty cottages. There’s a dinky little beach and people are paddle boarding in the calm waters. Beyond the harbour, waves are crashing against the walls and rocks. I’ve finally found the traditional Scottish village that I’ve been looking for on this trip, (we actually drove through one earlier on the coast road, it’s name escaping me), the one I’d expected to see in the Highlands and here it was, on the southwestern corner of Scotland.
We wandered around, checking out the harbour and a little craggy outcrop it was attached too, a Scottish flag flapping in the wind. We climbed the steps up the other side to find out what the huge building was on top of the hill – rather nice looking hotel – and wandered back down to the front. Halfway up the hill towards the back of the village, a circular school building stood out, with a dull red metal roof. It didn’t quite fit in. Perhaps a grey roof or one of those eco friendly grassy ones would of been more appropriate. It was a small blot in a lovely little spot.
We were hankering for fish and chips to eat on a bench, overlooking the harbour and the sea beyond, but upon enquiring we discovered the village lacking in such an establishment though it had about six pubs/restaurants/eating places. We studied their outside menus, but nothing was jumping out. We had already eaten out last night. We agreed to go back to the Van to finish off a bottle of wine and have a picky tea with what was left in the fridge. We sauntered back up the hill and along another path, looking down onto the sea. On a clear day, you can apparently see Ireland. We set up the Van, it was quite windy up here with nothing to stop it – we had parked the Van with its bum facing the wind, so we should be okay popping the roof up. We still weren’t 100% happy perched on this windy site and the weather wasn’t looking too great for tomorrow – maybe we will move on and head closer to Ambleside where we were due to stay in two days time to meet friends. We made our picky tea, drank our wine and after a while, set up the bed so we could watch tv on the iPad, wrapped up in our sleeping bags. It had been a long day travelling – it takes ages just to get from Fort William to Glasgow. So with the wind whistling around us, we settled down for the night!