Torridon – Day Seven

It’s still raining, the low cloud sitting on top of the mountains. We had planned another bike ride as recommended by our friendly plumber, but it doesn’t look good for such an activity. We watch the weather conditions for signs of improvement while we get ready and have breakfast, but by 9.30, the apps on the phone are predicting another 2 hours of precipitation at least. We settle on Plan B – a walk on the footpath to Torridon for lunch at the little cafe/general store. We put on our full wet weather gear and set off rustling along the tarmac road. We drop down onto the grassy footpath and stop dead – there’s something swimming in the water. There’s a frantic search for the binoculars and then a squeal of delight! Its an otter! We can’t believe our luck – we’ve had so many false alarms this week, usually a seabird floating mindlessly and serenely across the loch and now, finally, an otter. He swims to the pebbly beach with a fish in his mouth and we watch him devour it, have a clean, a shake before heading back into the water to catch another fish. This time, he comes ashore even closer to us to eat his snack. He swims out again, diving under the water and then bobbing up, empty handed. He turns on his back, twisting on the surface before sliding under the waves to fish again. He’s not having much luck now as he’s heading further and further out. Suddenly we spot another otter, doing the same thing! They’re like buses – none for ages and then two turn up! We are mesmerised watching these beautiful, elegant, athletic animals, chuffed to bits to finally see them in the wild. We lose the track of time completely.

At last, an otter!

We eventually pull ourselves away from them, realising that we are sat on the first tee of a small golf course that the owner of a nearby house has created. How fantastic – it’s more like a putting green, but how quirky. It even has the flags! We follow the path that we took on the bikes, taking much more in at our slower pace. Little holiday cottages dotted in the woodland and one lovely property, converted from a chapel, overlooking the loch on a prominent position. It was something from Grand Designs.

We’ve also noticed that there’s a lot of motorhomes and campervans “wildcamping” in various laybys and patches of gravel. They seem to stake their spot and then head off for the day, returning later back into the exactly same place. How lovely to pull up where you like and enjoys views like this. That’s the life.

The streams and rivers were still gushing with water, but with less velocity than yesterday. We walk into Torridon and up to the little shop. We shelter under the little veranda and order sandwiches and coffee, watching people come and go. I share my sarnies with a robin, who keeps hopping out from underneath a parked car. The day is not sure whether to stay wet and damp or to let the sun out. The rain has eased to a spit, but the clouds are still draped over the nearby peaks. We start to walk back, finding a memorial for workers who carried the body of their boss to his resting place. Just erected by the roadside, easily missed. Love coming across things like that. As we drop into our bay, we find a bench where we rest briefly, to admire our little house and piece of loch. We spot a man kayaking and laugh as he gets stalked by a seal. They are quite comical animals. Walking back on the road, we meet a group of men dealing with the thousands of evasive rhododendron plants that are everywhere, taking over the landscape. They describe what they have to do – it seems a rather soul destroying job as rhododendrons are pretty hard to eradicate, leave just one little piece and it will come back again. Wishing them luck, we leave them to it and drop onto the beach, but it’s too pebbly and we resort to walk on the grassy bank back to our cottage. We’ve taken most of the day to do the relatively easy 10 mile round walk, but there are so many distractions – like otters, seals and the general area really.

After a cuppa and a shower, we notice the rain has finally given way to a weak sun, lighting up the landscape and bringing out the wonderful colours. Our raging river next door has calmed down too and back to its normal self. We spend an hour hanging out of our bedroom window, just watching. Seals are now hanging out in front of our cottage – sticking their heads up, having a look around and then silently, with hardly a ripple, sliding underneath the water. It’s just amazing. We are very very happy.

Torridon – Day Four

We wake up to an overcast sky, threatening clouds and rain. Doesn’t look nice at all – let’s say we didn’t rush to get up. Finally we emerge and have porridge whilst we decide what to do. We latch on the idea of going up to Ullapool and start to get organised until we check on the satnav and realise that it’s over 2 hours and 75 miles away. Mmm, major rethink as we’ve been to Ullapool and though it’s lovely, not sure it’s worth a four hour round trip. So we aim for Gairloch, only 1 hour away and 34 miles. There’s only one road to it – the 10 mile single track back to Kinlochewe and then a main road from Kinlochewe to Gairloch. We haven’t gone far out of Kinlochewe, when we spot the Beinn Eighe Visitor Centre and impulsively pull in – we’re on the search for some good biking trails – and find a single story building painted white, full of displays and information, but seemingly unmanned. We have a wander, reading the information and have a brief recce outside. It’s a possible idea for a good walk later on in the week.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beinn_Eighe

We continue our journey in a steady drizzle on a two way carriageway following the edge of Loch Maree, admiring the huge Munro’s towering over us. Truly magnificent. As we peel off to head towards Gairloch, the road suddenly shrinks to a single track with passing places and then after less than a mile, springs back into two way! It’s just so weird how it changes from one type of road to another – it certainly keeps you on your toes! It’s starting to brighten up as we spot a side road on our left and decide on a whim to check it out. We come across a fabulous hotel overlooking the little bay of Loch Shieldaig and make a note of a possible lunch venue. We carry onto Badachro, a single street of houses and a small jetty. The Badachro Inn is here, which has been advertising itself for the last 3 miles, so we park up and have a wander – we find a little shop selling all things touristy and have a nose, getting some postcards and little bag with anchor motifs. We find the Inn which isn’t quite open, but there’s something about it that’s not floating our boat. we wander down to the jetty to kill time, chatting to a local and admiring this beautiful little bay. Apparently Irish boats came over, filled with Irish soil as ballast, dropping it at Badachro before filling their boats with Scottish herring and heading home. That’s why this part of Scotland is so vibrant green and things grow so well.

We head back to the car and follow the single track road to the coast and to Redpoint, through scattered hamlets of bungalows and chalets. It is quite populous when you really look, but it also looks quite isolated and remote. Sheep munch on the road side and casually wander out in front of you, giving you baleful stares. They’re not for moving and you have to squeeze past them, as they nonchantly chew grass without a care in the world. At Redpoint, there’s a beautiful semi circle of sand, a deep inviting beach – ideal for The Dog if she was with us, but she’s back at home. We find a viewpoint high above the beach with far reaching views of Skye and Harris, the sky big with fluffy clouds and the sun picking out the rugged beauty. We stand for many minutes, drinking it all in. Scotland at it’s best.

We retrace our steps back to the main road of Gairloch, feeling decidedly peckish now. We drop into Gairloch and pull off at the Pier. At the far end, there’s a huddle of shacks offering boats trips which are all closed and peering over the edge, a variety of boats are tied to the harbour, bobbing in the gentle water. It has the distinct feel of a working harbour. We walk back towards the road and find a promising looking cafe, but inside it’s a bit austere and offering only tea and cake. So we jump back into the car and head into the main part of Gairloch, passing the links golf course and more lovely broad beaches. On our right, there’s a couple of places that may offer good food, but we want to check out the rest of the area. “Crumbs” is advertising lunches, so we follow their signs towards the Village Square as the sky starts to grow darker and ominous. We don’t come across Crumbs, but hubby has been in the Mountain Café before and so we head in there. There seems to be only bagels on the menu, but they’re ticking our box so we order them with a hot coffee, only to be informed they haven’t got any – why don’t you scrub it off your menu then??? Grrr. Now our only option is a selection of cakes. We want a proper lunch, but we are giving up the will. So we end up ordering scones with jam and cream which are actually very scrummy, but we’re hankering paninis. The heavens open as we devour the scones and rain beats against the glass of the conservatory. Seems to be the last of the good weather. We wipe off the crumbs and run across the road to McColls for some bit and pieces for tea tonight – we’re not allowed in as they have a “2 People Only in the Shop” policy and as they already have 2 customers sedately browsing, we wait outside as the rain eases off. What a palaver. Once inside, we note that there’s at least six members of staff – how does that work?

Feeling slightly peeved, we drive back out as the rain is now persistent and we don’t want to get wet for no reason. We stop at the two shops we passed on the way in and quietly curse – the first one has a better range of food than McColls and the second one has a far better café and gift shop. It’s just one of those days when it doesn’t quite work out – hey ho.

We drive back the way we came, the sun pushing its way through the rain clouds again, revealing spectacular views, bringing out the most gorgeous colours on the surrounding Munro’s. The exposed rocks glisten and the verdant greens glow.

As we turn onto the single track road back to Torridon, the weather closes in again. It’s certainly not meteorologically boring around here! There have been men working along this section of road this morning, a mass of vehicles gathered on the roadside, patching the worst of the potholes – it really needs to be done properly – this will be all out by December. They are now on their way home, bullying their way through as we admire their handiwork. It’s definitely the “Screw You School of Tarmacking” by the looks of it. There also seems a lot of road signs, mainly advertising that the road projects have been funded by the EU; by the state of the roads, the road signs looked like they took the bulk of the money. Some signs seemed a total waste of time – one, some 5 miles along this narrow road, informed us it was a single track road with passing places – no shit Sherlock! It looked like it was a spare one and just plonked there. During the week we spotted many 30mph limit signs on these type of roads which made us chuckle as we rarely reached 25mph or got into 4th gear!

Once back at Torridon, we decide to drive a little further to check out the Torridon hotel, a rather swanky place on the shoreline, for a possible meal treat at the end of the holiday and to suss out biking trails. Both the restaurant and the bike shack are closed – limited opening times, but a kind lady who was passing tell us of a great sounding trail following the Loch to (another) Shieldaig (there’s two in the vicinity). We thank her profusely and decide to do a bike ride tomorrow, the forecast is looking good. We drive back to our house, as the sun appears yet again – how changeable the weather can be here – and Scotland shows off once again.

We’ve discovered our heating in the house isn’t working properly – it’s coming on at all different times apart from it’s supposed to come on. We’ve tried all sorts to get it to work, but resorted to calling the owners so a plumber might rock up tomorrow morning. We make tea, curl up under blankets to keep warm and chill as the sun goes down (around 7.30pm – god, the nights are drawing in). Postcards get written, diaries filled and we have regular forays outside looking for the elusive Northern Lights. Again, no luck, but tomorrow night is suppose to be better.

Torridon – Day Three

A lovely night’s sleep. It’s pre-dawn and through the Velux windows, you can see the outline of a mountain peak opposite. Eventually I wander downstairs to watch the sunrise in the sun room. After being cooped up in the car for the last couple of days, we fancy a walk and decide to walk to Diabaig, some 4 miles northwest of our house.

Mordor

We cross the bridge over our little river, pass some houses and find the footpath, climbing high above the loch. We contour along, with beautiful far reaching views. The sun is out and bathing the whole area in glorious colours. We come across a deer proof fence with a gate and next to it, a sanitising station – a dispenser tacked to a post – and polite notice to use it. We stopped and stared, looking around us in bewilderment- what a bizarre thing to come across in the middle of nowhere – it wasn’t exactly heaving with hikers. During the week, we kept coming across these sanitiser stations on isolated spots and just shook our heads – the world had just got madder. So we carried on for a couple of miles until we came across where the path started to narrow as it went through heather, but on a rather steep slope. I’m not a huge fan of such paths since slipping on a narrow scree path about 30 years ago and now my fears rear up again. The path is only about 18 inches wide, slopes at an angle and is breaking away in parts. The heather on my right is coming over the path, pushing me nearer the edge – I’m just not liking the steepness and start to lose confidence big time and freeze. There are no other options: either carrying on or aborting the walk. But hubby has an idea and scrabbles up into the heather above, looking for another route – he calls me up. There’s not a path, but it strangely feels a lot safer – I hunker down into the vegetation and crawl along. Being physically lower, being able to grab onto something and surrounded by thick heather makes me happier for the moment. We scud along until this route starts getting steep itself and we decide to slide down back to the original path which has improved immensely and my fear recedes, though my legs are like jelly. I feel rather daft for making such a fuss, but it’s a such overwhelming fear that I can’t explain nor get over. But now we’re on better footing and we make good speed.

During the week, we kept coming across these!!!

We head around the peninsula, the loch widening and Shieldaig on the other side hoves in view. The Isle of Skye peeks over too. The landscape is grassy interspersed with outcrops of rock, very boggy in places – you have to watch your footing all the time. Sometimes it’s rock, other times gravel or soft mud. We clamber up and down , stopping to look at the ever changing vista. Our pace has slowed and its hard going. We pass a couple of small tarns and finally, through a gap, we can see Diabaig, nestling far below. We seem so high, but the village so close. We start dropping down gently through the ferns and grass. We meet a couple and their very energetic Spaniel coming up, the dog darting here and there. We briefly chat and pass pleasantries – the chap warns us of a steep drop and I hear the back of the conversation – “it’s not too bad, about 6 metres…..” That didn’t sound encouraging.

On the way over, we have managed to book at the Gille Brigdhe, a small pub cum restaurant for 1.30. (You have to book in advance for everything at the moment). We reckon we can make it. But suddenly the path starts going up again, then dropping and up again over these rocky buttresses. Will we ever get to that road way down there? Suddenly the path turns and plummets down a steep stairway of rock. A slow case of dropping down carefully (in my case, mainly on my bum). It twists and turns, finally ending at a gate of a deer proof fence. We start to walk into a woodland, which is better news and come across the final obstacle. A drop of about 4 feet, across a large boulder with a thick rope tied to it to help walkers either pull themselves up the rock or to slide down. This was the six metres that our man had mentioned – we had had images of having to abseil down it, but in the end we kind of slid down it in an anticlimactic way after spending 20 minutes on our approach to it, scaring ourselves.

Finally we drop onto level ground and pop out of the woods, across the bridge and tarmac! Now to find the pub – we walk pass some houses and voila, there it is and it’s 1.29pm precisely. We ring the bell to summon our host, put on our masks until we’ve sat down and order pints of beer to celebrate our safe arrival. Sat in the garden, we look out to sea and with our binoculars, look for wildlife. A sea eagle had swooped over the trees whilst we were in the woods, so we were on the look out for him. We spotted our first seal too.

The food was wonderful at the Gille Brigdhe – roast dinner and a vegetarian lasagne, followed by apple pie and custard and coffee. We had to restore our energy for the walk back! We had decided to walk back along the road, but looking at the map, the road took us out wide in the opposite direction and snaked its way high up the hillside. However, we discovered a nifty shortcut that chopped a huge chunk off. It was steady pull up through woodland following a little bubbling stream, before bobbing out on the high moor and the tarmac road. It was nice to be able to stroll along and admire the scenery without fear of tripping up, but we could see the ribbon of road disappearing into vanishing points. It had now clouded over, but was still pleasant. We spot a large bird sitting on the electricity poles and try to identify it. It keeps flying off, landing further along so we spend a lot of time stalking this poor bird which takes our mind off the road. It’s cruelly deceiving as the road keeps veering off and plunging into a dip, and snaking needlessly, adding on extra metres. It’s a bit dispiriting really. We finally come to the conclusion that the bird is a Buzzard as it flies off into the distance. We hike up this steep incline and drop back into Loch Torridon and towards our cottage which boosts our spirits, but there’s still a way to go. We start to drop down, and stop by a car where someone is sketching on a nearby bench. There’s one of those monuments made of stone with a metal plinth marking all the local landmarks and we are studying this, when the artist calls over to us. It’s our Spaniel lady and her husband again. Would we like a lift? We hesitate slightly – is it cheating? It’s not that far? We take up her offer, but sit with our masks on and all the windows open on the short journey. The little brown spaniel in on the back seat and happily snuggles us to us – eventually curling up on hubby’s lap. We want to take her home! The couple, god bless them, drop us near our cottage and we wave goodbye to them – they’ve have sheared a good hour off our walk back. Road walking is quite tedious and hard on the feet. We were very grateful.

We get in and have showers and a welcoming hot cup of tea. We’ve done just over 11 miles of walking, not on the easiest of terrain and so feeling quite pleased with ourselves. Happily knackered, we curl up on the sofa, but one of our friends says it’s a good night for a possible sighting of the Northern Lights. So, in the darkness, we pad out and stand in the garden looking for the green glow. The moon is out again, lighting everything up. We spend a good 20 minutes out there until the chill forces us in. Anyway, a ruddy great Munro is obscuring our view of the northern horizon, so we call it a night. We head to bed suitably tired after a very enjoyable first day.

Torridon 2020

Friday – Day One

It was suppose to be the annual Scottish trip for hubby and half a dozen of his mates to bag a few Munro’s, do some cycling and generally hang out together and for me staying at home, a week of solitude, just me and The Dog, binge watching box sets on Netflix while eating all things chocolate and the odd glass of wine…… but sadly, Covid-19 put paid to all that.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Munro

Our pick: the 10 finest Munros | Walkhighlands

A couple of months ago or so, the boys realised that their trip was off, but to save the booking, three of the original gang would still go, taking their wives to make up six people from three households as per the Scottish Government guidelines. The lads had booked a 5 bedroomed cottage, so six people would be okay. Then the goalposts were moved again – this time, still six people but only from two households, so one couple kindly dropped out and so us and our two friends started to get things together ready for our trip.

But hey, not so fast! Four days before we were due to set off, with rising Covid infections, Scotland had another rethink and tightened the restrictions further. Only one household allowed now. We couldn’t believe it. Frantic phone calls and messages between us and our friends who didn’t fancy rattling around in a big house and decided to look for alternative accommodation – easier said than done – and we tried to get our heads around yet another change in the circumstances.

But news came through the very next day, that self catering cottages and the like were exempt from the one household policy (honestly, you couldn’t make it up) and we were back on as two couples in one house (hope you’re keeping up here). So with a deep breath and fingers crossed, we tentatively starting planning who was bringing what and sorting out a shopping list.

And yes, you’ve guessed it – 24 hours later and 24 hours before we were due to leave, my friend called me at work to say the information of yesterday was wrong and it was all back to just one household. I think most of the North West heard me scream. My friend scuttled off to find accommodation again while I phoned hubby to tell him the news, muttering and cursing under my breath. We needed this holiday now just to recover from the planning and execution of it! Our friends were successful in getting a last minute cottage, but on the other side of Scotland in Aviemore – so much for holidaying together, but we had booked an overnight stop in Perth before all this shenanigans started; to break up a 7 hour car journey to the west coast, and we decided to keep the booking and see each other for at least one night.

So on Friday, we took the morning packing the car and loading the bikes, leaving just after midday. We had heard no further news from the Scottish Government and felt relieved. My little car had just been fitted with a towbar and bike rack so we could take the bikes and I had images of my car with its front wheels off the ground with all the stuff we had packed. It looked like we were on a 6 month trip to the Himalayas rather than a week in the Scottish Highlands. We took the back roads as we thought a motorway junction was shut and headed through Sedbergh in glorious autumnal sunshine hoping to pick up the A6. The scenery was stunning, the plump Howgill fells covered in golds and browns of the heather. We went through little villages and communities, snuggled into the hills until we finally picked up the A6 near Shap. There was a purpose for this particular route too – to check if our little cafe in the village had re-opened. In my last blog and our trip to Northumbria in July, we had found to our dismay, this wonderful little watering hole closed and looking rather shabby. We were hoping it had re-opened to receive us for lunch, but as we pulled up, it was still closed and looking even more permanently shut. Thwarted yet again and knowing we wouldn’t find another eatery on this route, we succumbed to a cheap and anaemic packaged sandwich, accompanying packet of crisps and a Costa Coffee from a machine, purchased in a nearby mini supermarket and sat forlornly in the car to unsatisfactorily devour them in the shortest possible time. Sort of refreshed, we continued on up the A6 until Penrith, where we joined the much faster M6 and into Scotland.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Perth,_Scotland

Sunset in Perth | Skottland

It’s relatively easy getting to Perth – it’s basically all motorways, skirting past Glasgow before hitting the A9. We made good time and followed the Satnav directions for the Travellodge, which was apparently just off the A9 slip road. It was at this point, that the satnav threw a wobbly, took us right and indicated that the Travellodge was deep in a Perth suburban retail park. Finding no evidence (like a road sign), we retraced our steps back towards the A9, where I managed to override the technology and deduced that we should of turned left off the slip road. We went over the traffic lights, the satnav finally and reluctantly agreeing with us, though still insisting that it was somewhere on the right of us when patently it was on the left (a big square building with Travellodge embalzoned on its side was a big clue) and with a huge relief, we parked up and peeled ourselves out of the car.

We checked in with the rigmarole of face coverings and squirts of sanitiser and sat in our room, waiting for our friends, who rocked up an hour later. We had booked a Italian restaurant in town, and aware of the new rulings, headed towards the riverside in two separate cars, to park and walk into the High Street. We had a lovely, very filling meal (eyes bigger than the stomachs, I’m afraid), sitting on separate tables, socially distanced, so a lot of talking across the gap which isn’t very conducive. Every time we got up to go to the loo, the face covering had to go on, but not if we were sat at our table. We spoke about how confused we were of the ever changing Covid rules, the Scottish ones seemingly different from the English guidelines and half expected to fall foul of one. We waddled back to the cars and our hotel and with nothing better to do (there was no lounge room here) we went to our rooms to watch telly until sleep over took us.

Tomorrow we headed west!

Torridon 2020 – Day Two

We had slept well considering. We slowly got up, planning to meet our friends for breakfast. There’s a Dobbie’s Garden Centre right behind the hotel and on Saturday’s they’re offering a “buy one, get one free “breakfast deal. It’s a no brainer. So, after a little wait and a Covid dance, we settle down with four English breakfasts and coffees in a bright and cheerful cafe area. Once finished, we have a quick wander around the garden centre, picking up bits and then back to the cars to pack with bags and bikes and to say goodbye.

It’s another beautiful sunny day, lighting up the countryside. We’re heading to Inverness before tracking westwards and are little alarmed that we have 112 miles and two and half hours of travelling just to reach Inverness! The landscape is ever changing and it’s a pleasant ride. We drive through Inverness and head onto the little village of Beauly, where we stopped on our NC500 trip a couple of years ago. We know of a very nice deli and café there.

We wait for the “only so many people in at any one time” scenario before bagging a window table and ordering a Ploughman’s and fish chowder for lunch. Very nice. We decide to get provisions for the next couple of days too (couldn’t face a large supermarket). It’s a proper deli with cheese and meats on display, lovely biscuits and crackers, condiments. We browse and then start ordering at the counter. Unfortunately, the customer service let it all down. The girl was distracted all the time by other members of staff, leaving us either talking to thin air, having to repeat or getting our request wrong. Hubby overrode the strong desire to be British and let it go and actually commented about her service. She kind of improved, but it had soured our visit. We had almost walked out.

We needed milk – the deli only did glass bottles – but the Co-op opposite had a queue which we weren’t prepared to wait in, so we get back into the car and hoped to find a village shop on the way through. We drove up to the Ord of Muir and followed the A832 and connected up with the A835 which took us across to Linlochewe. Here the valley opens wide and runs alongside the railway line, where our Dog had watched trains and barked at a Dutchman. At Achnasheen, we branched right. We were making good time on decent roads and we didn’t have far to go.

I was driving when hubby told me to turn left at Linlochwe to discover that the road shrunk to a single track road with passing places for the next 10 miles. Oh great! It was interesting – lots of pulling over to let people through (though good for admiring the magnificent mountains and peaks that lined the road), keeping your eyes peeled for monster potholes (you would never get out again) and just being generally amazed by the road. We arrived at the little village of Torridon and found a wonderful little general store that did milk and lots of other groceries and a little café too. This ticked a huge box. Our cottage was four miles further up yet another single track road, this time with a double hairpin thrown in for good measure – it followed the shore of Loch Torridon, but went up high on the fellside, giving you the most fantastic views to the west. It was amazing. We took another left and literally plunged down into the little hamlet of Inveralligin and our cottage, nestling literally on the shore (only a stone wall separated us from the water). We abandoned the car and rushed into the garden to soak up the spectacular scenery before us – the skyline was jagged with mountain peaks all around, the loch stretching back to Torridon and to the west, into the sea. It was like a millpond, shining in the sunshine. The colours and shadows were stunning and we stood for many minutes, just gawping.

We peeled ourselves away to unpack the car and nest, after taking care of which of the five bedrooms to choose from. We chose the one with the double velux windows and the side window overlooking a tumbling beck. To our delight, the cottage has got a sun room at the back and a view of the loch and mountains. Perfect. After a a well earned cuppa, we go outside and sit on top of the ladder stile in the wall that leads to the pebbly beach. Our mission – to spot at least one otter. We sit for a while and with the sun starting to set, we decide to stretch our legs and follow the lane through the hamlet. The houses are scattered around – the original fishing crofts, modern bungalows and a couple of fabulous houses with floor to ceiling windows and we have a good stare. We walk to where the lane peters out and turns into a grassy footpath (which we learn, will take us to Torridon, missing out the tortuous high road above us). Its getting dark now and we start to walk back, just as the moon peeks over the mountains and lights up the loch. It is just magical. It’s a beautiful evening and a brilliant start to our week.

We’re out for ages, but once back, we open a bottle of wine with cheese and biscuits, curl up on the sofas in the sun room and toast our good luck!

Northumbria and the Scottish Borders – Day Seven

Another overcast morning and it looks like we’ve had some overnight rain. Today, we have planned a walk up out into the countryside and so gather our things. Two years ago, we stopped off at Moffat overnight on our way back from another motorhome holiday in North Scotland. We had liked it so much that we had promised ourselves a return visit out check it out properly. We go back to the High Street and stop off at a cafe for bacon and egg rolls and a latte. Hits the spot. We waddle down a side street lined with shops and then steadily climbing into a residential road. The street morphs into a stony track and we find the footpath we need.  It’s a steady pull up the hill, following a wooded path between two sheep fields, with splendid views of Moffat behind. We pause at a junction of paths to admire the view and take photos, before taking another path leading up through the trees.  The trees give way to an open area, where logging has taken place and it’s regenerating. There is the odd picnic table dotted here and there in the vegetation, which is lovely as there’s now 360 degree views to be had. It’s rather pleasant though we can see rain showers everywhere we look.

The weather is very changeable. We walk down the other side of the hill and into a mown haymeadow. We cross this and pick up a gravelled track. A little further, we branch off and begin another pull up a hill.  It’s here that a rain shower clips us and we get a bit damp. When we summit this hill, there’s another, even higher hill beyond, which is quite tempting, but The Dog isn’t looking very lively today. Maybe she’s missing her beaches, but she definitely hasn’t been very enthusiastic on this walk so far. So we make our way down towards a farm track, through a field of skittish sheep and follow the “Moffat Way” signposts. As we pass a white bungalow, we spot a sign marked “Moffat Well” and go an investigate. It drops through a little grassy field and in the corner is a small building, open at one end. Propped up against it, is an information board. We enter the well and promptly come straight out again. It stinks – an awful foul stench. It’s actually not that special – a hole with railings around it. Next to the well, is a steep ravine with a surging river running through.  It’s a very pretty spot.  If the smell is sorted out, it would be a lovely place to picnic.

We retrace our steps back to the road and following the “Moffat Walk” signs, walk through fields and follow the river back to the edge of town. A delightful road of smart bungalows and beautiful large detached Victorian houses. One houses had a long line of painted pebbles outside in response to the current Covid situation. We slowed down to admire them. Towards the end of the road, the local town planners had allowed some pebble dashed carbuncles to be built, sticking out like a sore thumb and a limited attempt to blend them in. Oh for a stick of dynamite.

We found ourselves back on the little side road we had started from and peered into the shop windows.  We bought some lunch from a little deli and popped back onto the High Street. We spotted an icecream parlour, bought two icecreams and sat on the War Memorial benches, situated on the island in the middle of the road, studying the names on the Memorial. We then decide to walk to the river and cross the road which is a bit fraught.  Moffat has this central area down the middle of its High Street for parking and War Memorials with traffic on either side. We had assumed they had a one way system, but no, cars travel both ways on either side, so you think its safe to cross and look the other way, to find a van bearing down on you. At the end of this central area, cars can criss cross over and we watch as motorists negotiate this potential mayhem with orderly calm. It just looked complicated.

Satisfied, we took a side road lined with terraced cottages which are so typical of Scotland. They looked lovely and cosy, painted in different colours. They give way to larger bungalows set back in lawned gardens. At the bottom, the river gurgled. The Dog bounded into the water, looking pleased with herself, but after a couple of throws of the ball, she lost interest and wandered off. The riverbed was very pebbly with greeny grey stones which gave the river a beautiful colour – the water was absolutely clear. It was a very attractive stretch of water.

We saunter back to the campsite, picking up cakes and other goodies for tea. The entrance to the site has a long queue of motorhomes and caravans waiting to get in. We sit outside to eat lunch, despite the very cool weather, but as we finish it starts to rain. Then the sun comes out and it warms up and we’re back out again. We spend the afternoon in our chairs watching people set up and fiddle with their caravans.  A couple settle in next door to us and spend hours nesting. Suddenly our dog goes beserk and barks madly at the chap. He’s trying to strap a long pole with a tv aerial on top to the side of his van and our dog hates anything like that, due to her traumatic puppyhood (she’s a rescue). We apologise profusely to the rather alarmed man and try and calm our pooch.

Once again, Moffat provides us with the characters of the camping world (we came here two years ago, just for night and it warranted a return visit). There’s Mr and Mrs Labrador who have a puppy and an older Lab who stop every time they pass to chat, while our Dog grumbles at them. We watch Mr and Mrs Two Tables, who spend an inordinate amount of time nesting, their Ford Focus more like Mary Poppin’s carpet bag, the amount of stuff they drag out of it. They set up two tables and keep moving them in and out of the awning, trying to find the perfect position and in between this, there’s fussy owners washing caravan roofs with brooms, checking water levels and generally farting around.  It’s a fascinating social study of the British living outdoors, with our island mentality of being quite territorial, chairs and windbreaks marking perceived perimeter and never fails to get us chuckling over our wine glasses.

The Sun is in and out of the clouds all afternoon, the temperature up and down like a proverbial yo-yo. The Dog has discovered there are rabbits and rooks in the campsite and keeps an beady eye on them. We have a lazy afternoon and after finishing our last bottle of wine of the holiday, have a wander around, discussing the pros and cons of the various motorhomes we see with the view of perhaps getting one ourselves. As we walk, we hear a horrendous crash of crockery hitting the ground and not bouncing. Some poor person dropped her washing up and is bent picking up the pieces. Feel for her.

We head back to our own Van for our last night. And The Dog is officially knackered.

Northumbria and The Scottish Borders – Homeward Bound

It’s a lovely final morning – the sun is shining and it’s warm. Typical.

We don’t rush. We get our things together, do the final Van ablutions and then around 10am, start heading south. We’re going the slow way home and avoiding the motorway, following the maps instead. Trying to miss out narrow roads too, as best we can, which isn’t easy. We initially take the road to Boreland, but though it’s a lovely road, it starts to get a bit narrow and we hope we don’t meet a combine harvester. At Boreland, we pick up a B road to Eskdalemuir, a broad strip of tarmac, snaking its way up into the fells, green pastures on either side, little farms dotted along the wayside. It’s a lovely road to drive on, gentle bends – a great road trip road. We continue to gradually gain height, before dropping into Eskdalemuir, a small cluster of houses gathered together – more of a hamlet. We continue onto Langholm, driving down a stunning valley of lush meadows, fells and large tree plantations. In the glorious sunshine, the colours really stand out – the vivid greens of the fields, the gorgeous stone of the buildings, with the backdrop of darker greens and browns of the pine woods. What a hidden gem!

We pass through Langholm and continue towards Longtown, the land flatten out now as we drop towards the Solway Firth estuary.  Just before Longtown, we cross over the border back into England and bear inland more into the Eden Valley. We follow the road to Brampton, through gentle rolling countryside, slowly but perceptively climbing again. It is along this road where we’re overtaken by a motorcyclist, only to find him sprawled on the road outside a house, some two miles down the road. How he has come off, goodness knows, but what little traffic there is has stopped and people are helping him and his motorcycle off the road. Two chaps appear armed with dustpans and brooms and sweep away the many bits of motorcycle debris and within five minutes, we’re all away again as if nothing has happened. All done very efficiently and calmly and not a copper in sight.

We pass through Newtown, another vivid memory of our Hadrian’s Wall Walk last year. We had staggered out of a footpath after a 10 mile day, looking forward to sustenance. However, we needed to get transport to nearby Brampton for our overnight stay, which was 2 miles away, down a relatively busy country road with no pavements. So we spent a considerable amount of time calling local taxi firms who were either on the school runs or wanted to extract £25.00 from us for the pleasure. There was no choice but to walk to Brampton. We tried hitching a lift, but to no avail, so we put our heads down and bit the bullet.  Not the most pleasant of walks, burying yourself into hedges as cars bore down on you, the drivers giving you hard stares. Now in the motorhome, safe and secure and taking only minutes, we looked back on this particular folly with quiet amazement.

We didn’t stop at Brampton, but picked up the B6413 instead. We were starting to get a bit peckish and our earlier nibbling of our last few cheesy sticks was starting to wane. We were on the look out for refreshments in some form or other. During this contemplation, we lost concentration and made a wrong turn, but it turns out to be a fortuitous error, as it took us through the village of Langworthy with its large handsome village green, on the end of which was a converted horsebox serving coffee and cake. Something that you would of never expected, but in our world was perfect in location and timing.

We screeched to a halt and galloped over. Upturned crates became impromptu tables, surrounded by little garden chairs and it was here where we sat, sipping coffee and devouring cake, while admiring the Green and the surrounding village. It was very pleasant and a welcomed little break. We had a little wander around afterwards and discovered a pub that was open and serving. We had passed a few since Brampton, all firmly shut at this time of day because of restricted Covid hours. It would of been nice to have a proper lunch, but with cake already consumed, our needs were sufficiently met.

We left Langworthy and carried on, picking up the A66. Despite being a horrible trunk road (always having accidents and incidents) it goes through some spectacular Pennine countryside and the Howgills. We pulled off at Warcop and cut a corner off to Kirkby Stephen, noting the reddish/pinkish stone of the area. The weather is improving all the time and and as we came up to Sedbergh, there’s hardly a cloud in the sky! It would of been the perfect afternoon of sipping wine under the awning!

We finally arrive home and unpack. We decide to get an Indian takeaway, but with opening times all over the place, we are thwarted. Another couple of aborted attempts at a pub meal, we finally find the local Chinese open and feast on chow mien and prawn crackers to celebrate a rather successful motorhome holiday.

The Dog slunks to her bed under the stairs, thankful for space and not to have to sleep in that shower any more.

Northumbria and the Scottish Borders – Day Six

A lovely sleep til 7am.  Today, we’re on the move again, heading to Moffat in the Scottish Borders.

We get ourselves sorted out and onto the road. We followed the A198 out of town, still admiring this town’s handsome buildings and streets, seemingly untouched by ugly developments.  We stop briefly at a Co-op in Gullane to pick up a paper, some croissants and other pastries and follow the road across yet another golf course(s), this one nestling in a wide valley – the Gullane and Luffness links.  It was certainly a stunning course, straddling the road! We pass the estate of Gosford House and drop back onto the A1. Every single community we went through seemed to have a new housing estate attached it – admittedly it is Edinburgh commuter belt, but the building still seemed prolific.

We’re  now entering the edge of Edinburgh’s urban sprawl and using the major roads, pick up the A7 heading towards Galashiels. Still major development on endless commuter towns and villages that one day will connect up and make a Greater Edinburgh.

But soon we’re out onto rolling countryside and a smooth road. We find a layby to park in and get a brew going.  Though it’s broken sunshine, it’s still cool, so we sit in the Van to have breakfast of croissants and coffee.  We continue on, driving through Galashiels  and Selkirk. Mountains and fells rear up, tree plantations clinging to their sides.  We follow a pretty valley. We come up to St Mary’s Loch and consider a stretch of the legs,  but everyone is congregating around the sole cafe and the car park is a definite no. It is very busy.  We continue on towards Moffat, taking in the beautiful lush countryside. It’s a rather pleasant drive. We soon rock up to Moffat and find our little campsite.

We make camp and even get the awning out, but the breeze is whipping it and we fear that it may get damaged.  It’s now clouded up and keeps spitting rain.  We decide to have a walk before supper and head into town, about 5 minutes away.  It’s 4pm on a Sunday and the shops are starting to shut down, but we still saunter around.  There’s a distinct chill in the air now and still quite windy, so we head back for tea.  Afterwards, we curl up and read the rest of the paper.  The Van has a telly in the seating area, but can we get it to come on? We fiddle with allsorts and finally give up.

The caravan next door has a huge Bernese Mountain Dog, so huge you could eat your lunch off his backside.  He’s got the deepest bark going too.  We’ve had to turn our Van around as our door faced their caravan and we kept setting the dog off barking, which started our Dog off. He must take all the room up in that caravan.

It was later just as we were going to bed, when we were fiddling with the multitude of light switches that adorn our Van and pressing buttons on the control panel simultaneously, that the telly burst into life. We had failed to press the light switch button on the control panel to get the electrics on. Doh!

On that note, we retired to bed.

 

Northumbria and the Scottish Borders – Day Five

It’s not a good looking day weather wise – it’s cloudy and overcast.

We’re going to check out North Berwick today, so retrace our steps from last night and back to the little car park. We walk along the road a bit until we find a spot where we can access the beach easily. The Dog has recharged overnight and eager to chase the ball again – where does she get this energy? We stop and chat to people along the way and suffer our most embarrassing moment of the trip so far. Chatting away to a fellow dog walker, we spot our black dog in the distance, by the road and instinctively yell at her to come back. But squinting I realise that it isn’t our dog at all and look around for her. She’s patiently sitting by the side of me, panting and waiting for the ball to be thrown. Before I can stop him, Hubby bellows again at the seemingly disobedient dog who has totally ignored him. I tap him gently on the shoulder and point at our bemused dog, who’s really baffled. The other dog owner suppresses a giggle, as we casually laugh it off, commenting about why black dog owners insist on putting red collars and harnesses on their hounds, so they all look similar. It’s so confusing y’know. She leaves us in our deranged little world and we slunk off to the town centre.

The sky is getting blacker and blacker, really dark. Of course, I’ve left my raincoat in the van and can imagine getting drenched in the middle of the beach. Again, it’s quite cold – no worries it’s only July. We approach the harbour, walking past the little seawater lido built into the sand – a few brave souls braving the elements. We have a wander around. Little cottages and warehouses line the street which opens to a little harbour. We cross over to the harbour walls and out to a little spur with long range views of other side of the Forth and Bass Rock. A metal bridge prevents The Dog and I going any further. It’s a rather pleasant area with a museum and sealife/information building.  There’s a cafe with a grassy area and tables, but it’s quite busy.  So we head up a terraced street, all brownstone houses and built in the typical Scottish style, and come across the High Street. Remarkably, it is starting to brighten up, the black clouds being pushed away. The High Street is buzzing and has a great selection of shops, again all very charming. We stop for a coffee and park ourselves outside on some tables, when we realise that the sun has come out properly and we’re sitting in the shade. Doh!

We wander up and down, nipping into shops to get odd bits and pieces, every time having to faff around with the facemask, sanitising hands, steering around people. A family have parked a big 4 x 4 on the High Street and have blocked the pavement completely with car doors and baby buggies so people have to go into the road to get round them. Some people are so oblivious to their surroundings.

https://www.undiscoveredscotland.co.uk/northberwick/northberwick/index.html

The High Street gives way to some handsome villas and grand houses, set back in lovely gardens. We’re liking North Berwick very much. Very respectable and charming. It seems to be a very nice commuter town with Edinburgh being only some 30 odd miles away. We cut down a side road, popping out by yet another golf course and beyond that the west beach. To our right, is a putting green with a sign declaring that it soon would be converted to a 200 space car park. I was aghast! Together, it was a lovely open green space with fabulous views. I was very tempted to sign the ongoing petition to save it from the asphalt! Just so lazy people can park their tin boxes as close to the beach as possible. I hope the good residents of North Berwick save their open space!

We cross the golf course to another vast curving bay of fabulous sand (though slightly grittier than Northumbria’s).  The ball gets thrown into the sea, so The Dog gets to swim – one of her favourite pastimes.  Her energy levels seem boundless despite her 12 years. She just keeps going.  Eventually, we head back into town and suss out a fish and chip shop and to stock up on sweeties. Initially we head back to the harbour, but the fish and chip shop turns out to be that little cafe. No, we want the real thing, so we walk back towards the High Street and find a proper one.  They must of just opened and are setting out tables outside as we get served immediately. The big plan was to wander back to the harbour to eat our food, but the wind is strong and cool and it’s got considerably busier down there.  Here, we’re sheltered, though it’s on the pavement and people are passing by.  The fish and chips are delicious and The Dog gets her customary sausage. Towards the end of the meal, seagulls start to swoop around, looking to grab food – we quickly finish and gather our stuff.

We decide to take another route back to the campsite.  As we turn the corner onto the main road, there’s a delightful little communal gardens with benches in the sun, just yards from the fish and chip shop.  That would of been a much nicer spot to have lunch! Shame we hadn’t seen it earlier.(Seems to be theme here of picking bad lunch spots!) We walk along the main road and then peel off to a wide open parkland. It leads back to the beach, but there’s cars parked everywhere now and the road is busy. It puts us off going back onto the beach. We find another entrance to the park and walk towards the golf course clubhouse. The path veers right and leads us up into a woodland, speckled with dappled sunshine with a pretty little stream running through it.  It’s quite enchanting.  We are very impressed with North Berwick.

We pop out almost opposite to an ugly Tesco superstore and a sterile grey modern housing estate in the process of being built. It was the blot on the landscape of a rather handsome town. (Who allows these things to happen?) We find a little side road which conveniently takes us to the top end of the campsite and back to the Van.  Despite the strong wind, the sun is out and it’s very warm, completely opposite to this morning.  We drag our chairs to a nearby hedge and shelter behind that, soaking up the sun and dozing.

After an afternoon of idleness and a light tea, we decide to go for another walk to check out the headland. So we drop down, across the golf course and turn right, through the grass.  There’s now quite a few people camping with tents on the beach too.  We take the high path, looking down on little beachy coves and rockpools. The views to the west are stunning with the setting sun. We are able to drop down onto the sand, walking between the rocks. You can see the volcanic history here.  We watch gannets dive into the sea for fish off the rocks and then wander towards an interesting outcrop of rock. But a sign tells us that it’s still nesting season for the birds til 31st July (what happens to the birds on the 31st – get evicted?) and to keep off.  We start to walk away when we realise there is a group of youths already on it, obviously unable to read prominent signs.  I get quite cross about these ignorant people, thinking it’s okay to walk amongst nesting birds.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bass_Rock

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Craigleith

We saunter along (not worth having a go at these kids) as Bass Rock hoves into view and we can see the nesting birds swooping around. It’s quite a sight. It’s a lovely evening walk and we sit for a while, taking it all in and feeling very happy.  We meet a young local couple who are off to camp on the beach further up for the night – literally just a whim after a week’s work and we are quite envious. What a lovely thing to do.

The Law is to the left and Craigleith island to the right

The island is white from birds and their guano.

The route isn’t circular so we retrace our steps back, noting the illiterate youths are now in the sea, screaming and shouting.  We walk on the high path, adjacent to the golf course, back to the unofficial campsite cum car park, where two people are playing the guitar and harmonica in the back of their camper. The evening is cooling off now and we head back to the Van to settle down to read, write diaries or just watch the world. We try and look out for the comet that’s suppose be passing Earth throughout July, but we fail to see it – clouds on the horizon don’t help.  It’s now gone 11 and still not quite dark. Finally we head to bed and fall into a deep sleep.

Northumbria and the Scottish Borders – Day Two

We wake up, after a decent night sleep, to an okay sort of day. We have tea and biscuits in bed and then get ourselves organised for the day. We decide to go for a circular walk and pack a rucksack.  We walk down the little wooded footpath again, but before we get to the barley field, we do a right, clamber over a stile and follow the edge of another field of wheat heading towards Craster. The sky is overcast and heavy. We pop out on a small minor back road and drop down towards Craster cutting a corner off via a footpath. We come up to a small cafe and the tourist office which is firmly shut. We wonder whether to get a coffee now, but decide to go into the village first. We wander through little streets of dinky cottages and bob out by the Kipper Smokehouse and a pub offering crab sandwiches.  As it’s a bit early for lunch, we continue down to the harbour.  Craster is a small fishing village, seemingly very sleepy, but can imagine it being overwhelmed with visitors. Today, with people still creeping out of lockdown, it was rather nice to wander around. It was quite pretty, with the little harbour and the surrounding cottages. A large council estate was tacked on the edge of it, which doubled the size of the actual village.

https://www.visitnorthumberland.com/craster

We wandered back to the coffee shack by the tourist information and had a coffee and cake and realising we had missed a bit, went back down to investigate more. Here, the heavens opened and the rain coats came out and we sheltered under a porch. The rain is brief, but exciting shower. We have now exhausted what Craster has to offer and we wander past the harbour and a line of cottages looking out to see and onto the cliff walk towards Dunstanburgh Castle. It’s a wide grassy path with quite a few people around. Out to sea, the weather is busy – there’s a multitude of rain showers and black threatening clouds on the horizon. Here you can drop down onto the rocks and into the sea and a few people were looking at rock pools. We approached Dunstanburgh Castle, a ruin under the custodianship of English Heritage. Unfortunately we have to view from the outside, as there is only pre-bookings allowed in – no rocking up and getting in straightaway. (Everything has to be preplanned now).  It is an amazing edifice , perched on the headland, dominating the area around it. We walk around the edge of it, along a path covered in ferns and drop down, alongside the golf course. The Dog can smell beach and starts to pull.

https://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/dunstanburgh-castle/

A little bit of a geology lesson here with the rocks

Eventually, we drop down where the rocks give way to sand and unleash the hound. We take our shoes and socks off and walk in the gentle waves, laughing at our dog who gets spooked by them and skedaddles away every time they approach.  Finally, we come up to a river that is flowing into the sea – The Dog takes a well earned drink from the fresh water – and branch back up into the dunes. Here, we wash our feet of sand and put our footwear back on, before follow the path across the golf course towards the club house. It’s here that we see road signs that only the Brits can put up. We do love rules.

We couldn’t help but chuckle at this sign. Northumbrian beaches are huge and there’s hardly anybody on them! It just seemed a bit over the top. It’s not exactly Bournemouth! But I suppose the councils have to jump through the bureaucratic hoops.

Quite a bit to take in here. Lots to worry about!

We walk up a steady pull of a hill towards the village of Embleton, pausing on the way at a little cute box with a roof on it, full of books for you to take and replace. We choose one book and carry on up the road.  Again, a small pretty little village with a shop where we buy provisions. We are tempted to go in a pub for a pint, but they seem to be on restricted hours and closed. We’re also a bit wary of entering places full of people too and prefer a beer garden. Thwarted, we head back to our campsite along a busy road.

Love these little community projects. Just brighten up your day.

We spend the rest of the day at the campsite.  We unwound out the Van’s awning and had lunch under there as another rain shower came through.  It is quite cool too. We have a wander around the campsite, checking out fellow campers and later, take the Van for its ablutions, an exercise that usually ends up with us doing something wrong! But we are getting quite skilled at this now and can report a seamless top up.  We settle down, to read books, snooze, watch the world and sip wine. A pleasant way to end the day.