The day dawned to a bright sunny day, a crisp autumnal morning with beautiful colours. We had a plan to walk from the caravan site, but before we did, we hung up a washing line and hung all our damp walking gear from yesterday between two trees. It was only later, while hanging outside the shop, I read the site rules and discovered the washing lines were banned. Ooops.
I went to have a shower in the ablution block and what a delight. It had underfloor heating, was large and roomy and was spotless. I enjoyed my shower, got dressed and then, with a rubber broom, brushed the excess water on the floor towards the drain and left it tidy for the next person. It’s amazing that if you just leave something like that, people do use it and clean up after themselves – no need for stern notices or reminders. It is just happens. So I returned back to the Van a new and happy woman and prepared for our walk. Our damp gear was pretty much dried, so we took down our line, locked the Van and headed through the gate a few yards away.
We turned right and trotted almost immediately into the small hamlet of Skelwith Fold, with the most amazing views down the valley. It was stunning. We followed the little lane down to Skelwith Bridge and diced with danger as we walked a few yards along the main road to pick up a footpath. It dropped between houses and gardens into a little woodland before picking up the main footpath to Elterwater. This was a broad gravelled path, with a multitude of people on it – families, couples, dog walkers. It followed the side of Elter Water along the Cumbria Way through gates. It was a nice walk but so many people, but this is the Lake District. If you walk on the low level paths, this is where you’ll find most of the tourists. So we strolled along in the sunshine and got to Elterwater. There was a pub but it was heaving with people sunning themselves. We weren’t ready to throw ourselves back into the hustle and bustle so we headed off to do a circular walk which would be quieter. So we wandered down the lane and came across another pub/hotel but couldn’t figure how to get in for a pint – there didn’t seem to be an obvious entrance despite numerous doors. We shrugged our shoulders and continued on – we had drink and snacks, so we wouldn’t die. We walked through a woodland and then dropped back into a field, starting to meet more walkers. It was a nice stroll through woodland, fields, farmyards and open hilltops. We dropped back into Skelwith Bridge and decided to head to Chesters, a cafe tucked in off the road. We walked up to it, slightly dismayed to see a long queue for the cafe and then again, around the corner, the takeaway had an equally long queue. It was heaving with squabbling dogs, crying kids and aimless tourists. We beat a hasty retreat and decided to head back to the Van and get food from the shop.
It was a bit of a haul back up the hill to the caravan site, but we got there. We got a few provisions and a newspaper and sat in the sun eating a picnic by the Van. It was very pleasant and lovely to relax. We had walked 5 miles.
With 5pm fast approaching, we got ready to meet our friends. We walked out the site and dropped back into the hamlet, but took a little lane that skirted the caravan site and gently dropped into Clappersgate. There were a couple of spots where we had to walk on the main road with no pavements, on alert for mad motorists. But at Clappersgate, there was a wide pavement all the way into Ambleside. Our friends holiday home was up a steep hill, so we negotiated a steep flight of steps and after a little head scratching, figured out how to get to their front door.
We spent a lovely evening catching up, eating and drinking, recounting our holiday adventures. We had booked a taxi for 11pm the week before and we had a few panicky minutes when we wondered if he would come. A quick phone call found him at a slightly different address as they had written down the wrong postcode, but it was soon amended and we soon stuffing The Dog in the front passenger well and piling in after her for the 10 minute drive back. We were pleased not to have to walk back in the dark! We tiptoed through the site to our little Van and settled down for our last night of our holiday.
We survived the night on our cliff top campsite just outside the village of Portpatrick – the wind still buffering us and there was rain in the air. It was a bit damp going to the ablution block. Hubby hadn’t been happy here since we arrived – being high on an exposed coast in unpleasant weather conditions wasn’t his cup of tea. We made an executive decision to move on to find somewhere else and decided to leave straightaway. We headed off without breakfast, after quickly and efficiently packing up.
Hubby had found Great Luce beach on the other side of the peninsula, thinking it would be a great place for a walk and stretch The Dog’s legs. So we drove through tiny lanes, surrounded by sheep pastures and stubby wind-bent trees. It was misty and murky with the drizzle, it seemed someone had plonked a Tupperware box over the area, it was that grey. It was quite windy too, the birds struggling against the wind. When they tried to land on the telephone wires, they would overshoot and let the wind push them back so they landed elegantly, clinging tightly onto the wire once they touched base – when they took off, they just got whipped off in the other direction. We ended up in the village of Sandhead and parked up on a vast stretch of grass bordering the beach. And what a splendid beach it is, possibly one of the best beaches in Britain. We donned wet weather gear including The Dog and stepped onto this vast arc of sand, stretching some 6 miles around Luce Bay. It was stunning even in the mizzle. We spotted, way out on the horizon, three stumpy lumps and decided to head towards them across the sands. The Dog was extremely happy, a big smile on her face and looking at us as if we were the best humans in the world. The drizzle and wind was on our backs, and we laughed at The Dog galloping around. We walked and walked, those three stumps refusing to come any nearer, remaining little dots out to sea. But we were determined to reach them regardless. The beach used to be a bombing practice area years ago and the old airfield nearby is disused but still under MoD ownership. We could see the control tower and other associated buildings sitting on the edge of the beach. So we bent our heads down and strolled across channels and sandbanks. The Dog started to give us quizzical looks “where the hell are you two going?”
We finally got within spitting distance of them before a deep channel stopped us in our tracks. The three structures were actually in the sea as well. From where we stood, they looked like three concrete conical towers stood in a line. They must of been the targets. It was a slight anticlimax after all that trudging. We stood for a minute or two and then turned around, directly into the wind and rain and beat a hasty retreat. Of course, the weather really closed in, the distant village of Sandhead disappeared and there was no way to escape it. It was a bit of a trudge, our heads down with the village not getting any closer, but finally we hit the grassy car park and The Van. We had walked 6.5km. We quickly stripped off, dried ourselves and decided to hunt down a full English/Scottish breakfast. Nearby Newton Stewart seemed an obvious town to find it. So we travelled along the country lanes, past sheep fields and pastures, little woods and hedges – things weren’t so stumpy and wind blown here, but it was reasonably flat. We decided that the white exterior paint market was the industry to be in around here – with all these white cottages, you would never be out of business! We picked up the A75, the main trunk road from the M74 motorway to Stranraer. We know this area a little bit as our daughter lived here for nearly a year in a nearby village and as we googled Newton Stewart cafes, she happened to text us over something different and we picked her brains.
Newton Stewart is a pretty bustling little town just off the A75, but it was busy as we drove through trying to spot eateries. We found the Riverside restaurant our daughter had recommended, next door to the Sainsburys supermarket, so parking was a lot easier. We gave them a quick call to check about dogs. Dogs were welcomed except between the hours of 12 noon and 2pm when they got busy over lunch. I glanced at the Van clock – 12:09. Ho hum, major rethink. Parking on the High Street looked a nightmare so we decided to continue to Gatehouse of Fleet which we knew had a cafe.
The cloud was so low by now, you couldn’t see the hills and mountains of this area. Even the pylons looked like they had been chopped in half, totally headless. It wasn’t pleasant at all. It’s very pretty around here with the coast, the villages, the mountains, estuaries and marshlands and the commercial tree plantations, managed by the Forestry Commission Scotland, but you just couldn’t see to admire it. We jumped back onto the A75, when I saw signs for Kirroughtree Visitor Centre in the Galloway Forest Park. Our daughter had also recommended that, so we turned up a little single lane and headed into the woodland. We were starving. We found ourselves in a large car park with a modern wooden Visitor Centre. It was the hub for walking and biking through the forest as well as other activities. It was also a Dark Skies centre for star gazing and to our delight, you could camp overnight in the car park if you were prepared to be off grid. Oh why didn’t we find out about this earlier? However we resolved that we would return without dog, but with bikes and do a weekend here.
We scampered to the cafe. They didn’t do full English breakfasts, but a sausage bap and coffee sufficed. Why is it when you’re really wanting something, you can never find it? The Visitor Centre was light and airy with information boards along the walls showing the bike and walking routes. Happy, we returned to the Van and picked the A75 back towards the motorway – it was still miserable, still raining, a day of curling up on a sofa, fire on and sleeping, though the low cloud had lifted and we could see further afield. We decided to head to Ambleside, where we were due to meet some more friends the following night. It was getting late, so we carried along the A75 following the coastline of Dumfries and Galloway overlooking the Solway Firth, the flat marshes to our right. We passed the town of Dumfries where our other daughter, when she was young, innocently and endearingly mispronounced it as Dumb Fries. When we stopped laughing hysterically much to her mystification, we told her it was pronounced “Dumfrieze” and since then have always referred to it as Thick Chips in her company, much to her annoyance.
Soon we were on the motorway and within minutes passed back into England, just beyond Gretna Green. We pulled off at the Keswick turn off and headed west towards that town, the lovely and beautiful Lake District mountains starting to loom into view. We cut a corner off and popped up just north of Grasmere and followed the valley down, passing the lakes. Cars were parked everywhere – in lay-bys and lanes. A few people were walking as if they were in a town – fashion wear and umbrellas, their car probably only a few hundred yards away while they admired the lakes and fell sides. But it was just so pretty with the trees just starting to turn. We entered Ambleside, full of tourists milling around and a few bedraggled walkers just coming off the hills and followed the satnav through town and out the other side. We were looking for our camp site at Skelwith – it seemed so far out of Ambleside (we were due to walk in to meet the friends. After a little research it transpired to be 2.2 miles away, a 40 minute walk which would be perfect). Finally we hit the entrance and followed a seemingly endless road to the reception area and checked in. This was a lovely site, mainly devoted to static caravans, but with four areas for tourers like us. We could go off and chose our own pitch, so off we went to check it out and ended up pitching up on a corner, near the toilet block. Though it felt a bit crowded, there was still lots of room between us all. It was a good spot.
So we nested, got all our sodden walking stuff out and hung it from door handles and door edges, hoping it would dry. It was still drizzling, but we were under a tree and so sheltered. We looked like Widow Twankey’s and all her laundry. We had a plan – order pizza (the local takeaway delivered to the site), then go to the site shop to get beer and watch “Strictly Come Dancing”. We timed it perfectly – I went to the well stocked shop for the beers – it had most things covered while Hubby and The Dog went to meet the pizza delivery man. It was a lovely site sheltered in the trees, little off shoots with static caravans arranged neatly. It was quite a substantial site, slowly working its way up the hill. It was a very well run too – it even had an outdoor dishwasher!!! It was the most expensive site of the whole trip, but well worth it – everything was clean, tidy, well maintained and I didn’t have my usual reservations about the showers.
So we collected our pizzas and went back to the Van to consume them. I suffered another culinary disaster when my ordered vegetarian pizza arrived as a basic Magherita! Where’s me vegetables? I couldn’t believe it, but as I couldn’t change it, I ate it anyway.
It was still quite warm, so we sat with the side door open, The Dog lying on her mat, watching people and dogs wander past for late night wee walks. It was supposed to be nice tomorrow so we could have a chill day and maybe a quick walk before meeting the friends. We closed our door and settled down for the night.
Sorry for the lack of photos today – the day just wasn’t conducive for pictures – so clagged with cloud and rain, there was no views to be had!
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!
I like lying in bed while camping, all snuggled up listening to rain pattering on roofs and canvas. There’s just something about it.
The day dawns overcast and with a drizzle in the air. We’re in no rush today, a day without moving or driving as we’ve decided to stay another night. It’s just a lovely campsite, clean, tidy and spacious. We fancy a train trip and with the railway station about five minutes away, we have worked out the train times to Crianlarich, a small community north of Loch Lomond some 60 miles away, purely as we know there’s a lovely cafe on the station platform there. Trains in this part of the world are few and far between (about 4 a day) so the options are extremely limited, but have figured that if we caught the 12.02 from Roy Bridge, that would give us about an hour in Crianlarich for lunch before catching the 14.35 back again. Perfect.
So we lazed in bed, The Dog snuggling up to us (this doesn’t happen very often, so we make the most of it) having our usual cuppa. The rain keeps easing off, teasing us and then returning as a downpour. We organised the Van, put our wet weather stuff on and wandered down the lane to the railway station. We stopped to chat to the owner, a lovely lady, who asked us if we’ve got everything we need and just to give her a yell if we haven’t. So friendly and eager to help. We’ll come back to this place. So feeling happy we make our way to the railway station.
It’s a single track railway line with a single platform adorned with the corporate station furniture and colours of Scotrail. All things metal, either bare grey or painted with a special shade of blue that only monolithic companies seem to like. A standard template for all stations regardless of their location. Another of my bugbears.
It had an electronic information board scrolling times and safety notices. Paying a little more attention to it, we realised our 12.02 was delayed by about 15 minutes due to flooding elsewhere. That was a bit annoying, cutting our stay down to about 45 minutes, but it was still viable. The train from Glasgow, itself some 15 minutes late, pulled in from the other direction, The Dog barking at it furiously. (She does this with trains and then happily gets on them – weird dog). This is a good sign, we thought, our train will be next, but the overhead board changed again and our train wasn’t expected til 12:41! Oh really? We did the maths – we would have about 20 minutes at Crianlarich now, maybe more if the return train was delayed too, but let’s still run with it. Not wanting to hang around at the station in the rain for half a hour and having exhausted playing with the interactive Caledonian Sleeper noticeboard in the shelter, we headed off onto the Main Street of Roy Bridge to see what that had to offer. Not a lot but we discovered another pub and a quick Google told us that it was dog friendly. Perfect – train trip and then pub!
We also found the cafe our friendly site owner had mentioned. We weren’t ready for a coffee just yet, so wandered back to the railway station and waited for our train, checking the train app on our phones for more information as well as killing time. With some dismay, with minutes of arrival, the time was pushed back again to 12:48 reducing our time at Crianlarich down to 10 minutes. That was cutting it a bit fine. Do we go and risk missing that return train, stranded in Cairnlarich until the next train at 8pm? How would we get back if we didn’t want to wait 6 hours – it was 60 miles away and there is no bus service.
We stood there in a lather – we so wanted to go, but it was turning to be rather stressful. We tried to work out other options – getting off at Tyndrum instead, but that still didn’t really work. The weather was foul now, the clouds dropping low so the fantastic views over Rannoch Moor would be covered in mist and cloud and anyway train windows are always grubby and would be steamed up in that weather. With the train due any minute, we made our final decision. Knock it on the head and go and find something else to do. To console ourselves, we walked down to the cafe for lunch only to discover that they didn’t let dogs in. The day wasn’t going well. We looked at our maps, trying to work out where we could go. Didn’t fancy Fort William – a big town and we weren’t ready to hit crowds, shops and bustle. Spean Bridge was a tiny village. A walk in the rain didn’t appeal at all. Bus ride? The next bus was two hours away. With shoulders sagging we trudged back to the Van.
This was the last thing we wanted to do. Sit in the Van in the rain, feeling cooped up. The only thing it made us do,was to make getting an awning our Van a top priority. Since getting the Van late last year, we had been gradually adding bits and pieces as we used it more, but this trip confirmed that an awning was essential – we could of, at least, sat outside under it now as it was quite warm (15 degrees despite the rain) rather than huddled on top of each other. Our provisions would make a pathetic lunch too, so annoyingly we got the Van ready to drive somewhere – the last thing we had planned.
We drove east along the A86, looking and hoping for a cafe or similar. There were no villages at all along this road, which hugged a reservoir and Loch Lagan. Finally after many miles, Laggan Wolftrax, a mountain bike hub in the forests loomed up and it had a cafe. Yes! We instinctively pulled in. The cafe was open and let dogs in (hurrah). It was very rudimentary but had a couple of good items on its menu. Hubby had eggy bread with bacon and maple syrup and I went for the veggie chilli nachos with coffee to follow. A family of Americans sat in the corner being served the nachos and boy, did it look good. So imagine my utter disappointment, when I went to order and found out there was no more nachos left. Really? Quickly I scanned the menu board and chose the Parmesan egg mayo sandwich only to be told that it was off the menu too – they had actually run out of veggie options. Oh for Pete’s sake. They offered me the bacon, Brie and cranberry sandwich sans the bacon, which didn’t quite float my boat, but it was food. I didn’t have much choice. It just wasn’t our day today in many ways. So we sat down at a table – I then noticed that apart from the Americans, four forest workers were also devouring a bowl of nachos each. They were an obvious favourite dish here and I had arrived just too late.
So we ate our fare, the food was really nice and The Dog scrounged titbits from under the table. Suitably nourished and with nothing better to do, we drove back to Spean Bridge and their little Spar shop for vital provisions – beans, crisps and chocolate biscuits before heading back to the site and being quiet, while the rain tapped gently and steadily on our roof. It hadn’t stopped raining all day. Wisps of low cloud wheedled their way between the hills and mountains, like scrawny fingers, the summits completely shrouded in mist. It was very atmospheric and beautiful despite the awful weather. Scotland can do this – look wonderful in all weathers.
We checked that our proposed pub let canines in (yes, they do – the day is looking up at long last) and decided to make the bed up so we could collapse in it straightaway when we got back. At 6:30, we waddled down to the pub, the rain gently falling in stair rods. The pub was open already (yippee) and we walked in, the bar at one end and down both sides, dining tables and chairs, some with a reserved sign on them. Looks like it’s going to be busy, but we were the first in. We sat down and looked at the menu – it was pricey for what it was, but we had no other option. We plumped for the curry and watched the huge telly suspended in the corner. The food arrived, heaps of rice and curry and as a bonus, a large spoonful of tinned vegetables. The Dog got a treat and settled down. The food was nice, but ambitiously priced. We got chatting to the owners and watched Emmerdale. Hubby had another pint. Nobody else came in – so much for the locals supporting their local hostelry – but the owners said they had been ram-packed on Monday and Tuesday with visitors. So fickle was the hospitality industry.
With bellies full, we said goodbye to our hosts and walked back down the lane, the tunnel of trees making it incredibly dark when we turned the torch off. We jumped into bed – it was still quite warm (we left the side door open but the rain kept coming in) – watched the other half of the Star Wars film we had started to watch last night and fallen asleep halfway through. This time we made it to the end. We snuggled down – not the sort of day we had envisaged, full of slight disappointments and lots of rain, but we had made a day of it.
The weather is ridiculous at the moment. The start of October and it’s 15 degrees!!! Almost t-shirt weather! We have been incredibly lucky – 10 days of decent temperatures, missing the rain and a good dose of sunshine. Scotland isn’t usually so kind this late in the year. So we can’t complain about one day of persistent precipitation – it could of been 10 days of constant wetness and we would of been well and truly going stir crazy. We fell asleep content with the world.
Another starry night, this time here in Glenshiel. Another good night’s sleep, though it was cool this morning in the Van so we put the heater on. It makes quite a hum and blows out hot air which spooks The Dog. She’s trapped in the Pit of Doom under the front seat, unwilling to have a waft of heat up her tail. Wuss.
We sorted ourselves out. The sun peered over the mountains and the little campsite lit up, surrounded by tall hills. It was quite lovely, almost like a hidden enclave. We were going to shower today, but the showers here are not appealing. Fingers crossed for nicer ones tonight.
While The Dog took herself over by the wall and soaked up the early morning sun, we decided what to do. Stay here or move on? We decided on the latter and jumped in the Van, heading to Gairlochy and the Caledonian Canal for a walk. It was a lovely drive through Munro Central – there’s quite a number to be bagged around here. The mountains were covered in green grass that looked like a velvet coat. It’s very autumnal too, the trees definitely turning colour. The sun is battling the clouds now and is struggling to break through. It might win. We passed a place with fuel pumps that were advertising diesel at £1.70 when the average is £1.40 – that was blatant ripping off people. Only if I was on fumes, I’d only top up to the minimum and drive to the next garage (hoping they weren’t stupidly expensive). Makes us so cross.
We dropped down into Invergarry and picked up the main road to Fort William, stopping at the Commando Memorial perched on a viewpoint. A fantastic statue of soldiers lost in warfare overlooks the valley. It’s a bit of a tourist attraction with a large car park with a couple of coaches burping out tourists who waddled over and took lots of photos before re-boarding. We read the inscription and then headed off to another corner where there was a stone semi circle with lots of personally inscribed plaques, messages, photos and flowers. It covered all the wars and conflicts of the past 100 years – many were casualties of Afghanistan and it struck a chord. Many of the fallen were the same age as our own kids which really brought you up. A terrible waste of life especially as we’ve now all withdrawn. There were a lot of people silently looking and reading the words, quietly commenting to their companion. It was all very quiet and respectful, but you just felt that there should of been only one or two of you there. We still came away in deep thought of how futile wars are and how many lives were lost.
Driving through the valley, we noticed a lot more cute stone cottages which reaffirmed our theory of wealth and climate dictating the housing stock in different areas. Just up from Fort William, there is a lot of money here, being the heart of the tourism industry. Obviously before tourism, there were other factors – Fort William is a major conurbation in this area. Also the climate, they’re up a sheltered valley away from the more serious wind and rain. It’s been quite enlightening working it all out. But I still can’t forgive that school in Ardroil………
We drove down a narrow lane to the Caledonian Canal and parked up. The Dog is so eager for a good long walk after yesterday. The canal path is a wide track and we let The Dog off lead which she rejoices – free at last. There are other walkers and a fair share of cyclists too. We caught up with a husband and wife and their two Jack Russell terriers eating their sandwiches. Turns out that she’s walking the canal to raise money for the Scottish RSPCA. We have a lovely long chat with them and want to donate, but we’ve left our wallets in the car. Only afterwards do we realise we could of asked her for her GoFundMe page. Doh!
The sun has won its battle with the clouds, though there are mackerel shaped clouds which signify bad weather. It’s now lovely and warm – a beautiful day. The canal is like a millpond – totally still and with perfect reflections of the nearby mountains and trees. Wonderful. We walked 2.5 miles exactly (I know, anal isn’t it?) and turned around and retraced our steps. The lock at the beginning of the walk was broken and boats can’t get through. How frustrating and what a bummer if you’re on a boating holiday trying to get up to either Inverness or Fort William, especially if it’s your last day and you need to get the boat back.
We get back to the car – we haven’t had any lunch and it’s gone 2pm. So we drove back along the lane and found the little parking area we spotted on the way in. Thankfully it was empty, apart from a lorry driver opposite. After some manoeuvring, we had the side door facing a favourable sunny aspect and put the kettle on. It was a lovely view to the mountains in the distance, if you ignored the long line of glinting pylons slap bang in the middle, heading off into the distance. We had a cuppa and a couple of Scottish shortbread biscuits, The Dog lying on her mat by the fence, sunbathing. When it was time to go, she was very reluctant to vacate, despite our enthusiastic encouragement, so we just grabbed all four corners of her bed and hoisted her into the Van. Let’s say she wasn’t very impressed with the indignity of it all.
We had googled “caravan sites near Spean Bridge” earlier and one Bunroy Caravan Park took our fancy, in the village of Roy Bridge, just east of Spean Bridge. After a quick stock up of essential items at the local Spar shop, we headed down to Roy Bridge to check it out. We are also toying with staying two nights and the idea of a train trip to Tyndrum tomorrow – a day without the Van. We turned right down this tiny lane, full of potholes and speed bumps, leading to private houses. At the end, it opened up into the campsite. To our delight, it’s a Caravan and Camping certified site and we are members! This will be a nice place to stay. So we checked in and spent many minutes choosing the best spot in the sun before setting up. The only downside is that the proposed pub meal we had promised ourselves tonight is thwarted as they don’t allow dogs. Pah! We need a rethink.
The first priority was to have a shower and Hubby goes first. The sun disappeared behind mounting clouds and it cooled off considerably. I stopped being an ablution block snob and actually enjoyed a lovely hot shower. I did a little laundry too and when I got back, Hubby was getting tea together – pasta and vegetables in a sauce. The wine bottle is opened which is a good sign too, though it was our last bottle and we’ve still got 4 nights to go. Afterwards I retrieved the laundry from the dryer and washed up the pots. The light was starting to go, but The Dog was getting a bit grumpy. She’s still got energy after the 5 mile walk. So we headed down to the river and along a wooded path in the gloom – it starts to rain. We walked as far as we could go and then turned around. It was now seriously raining. We headed back to the Van and settled down. It’s 7pm and it’s dark. Autumn is definitely here – in three weeks the clocks change. It is very October.
So we curl up in the Van, listening to the rain pattering on the roof. It is the first period of rain we have had on this trip – we have been very lucky and to be honest, it was only a matter of time before it caught up with us. And now it has.
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.
We woke at 7am after a slightly troubled night. The Dog got rather bad tempered and kept hogging the seats/bed and growling at us. Suffering from a bit of cabin fever, no doubt. She could not be moved easily. At 3am Hubby went to the loo only to return to find The Dog firmly on his side of the bed. Again she would not move, so it ended up as a game of musical beds with me shoving her to one side and moving to Hubby’s side of the bed so he could replace me. She knows not to mess with me. Ten minutes later, after all this kerfuffle, the Hound jumped off the bed with a harrumph and went back to her Pit of Doom in the passenger well for the rest of the night. Think we then did our own growling back at her!
The wind has died down and it has the beginnings of a lovely day in Ardroil. The sun finally rose over the mountains and we popped up the roof on the Van, fed up with clonking our heads on the low ceiling all the time. We made breakfast, suddenly realising The Dog had wandered off. We spotted her sitting in the long grass diagonally opposite us, enjoying being on her own. She does this a lot too, just taking herself off to contemplate, have some downtime or just to plot our downfall. She was happy and chilled so we left her. Perhaps we need to be more Dog.
After breakfast we decided to go for a walk to investigate the area, so dropped back down onto the beach and towards the estuary of a river. We headed towards a wooden bridge, walking across the vast empty sands. Nearer the bridge, which spanned the river channel, we discovered that the river spilled over the beach and was a little deep for trainers. Hubby had ankle Wellington boots and was fine. I had to take my shoes and socks and paddled barefoot through cold, but surprisingly refreshing water towards the bridge, before crossing it and drying my feet with my bandana. My feet were getting numb but I enjoyed that tingling feeling as they returned to life in the warmth of my boots.
We crossed a little headland of grass up to a stile. We had to manhandle The Dog over this as it was just a wire fence with a plank of wood through it – could see a paw easily caught and an injured dog. We followed the side of a field up to a dirt track and a gate. Built into the wall was an microwave with a large 1 painted on the front – we could only presume it was a makeshift post box for the house next door. Such ingenuity.
We were now on a single tracked road and perched on a low hill was a church-like building in somewhat disrepair, but with a good roof. Peering inside, there were cement mixers as if it was being renovated, but it seemed all activity had ceased some while back. Abandoned, given up on for the time being. Slightly further on the opposite side was a handsome square stone memorial with names of the war dead and a local shipping disaster. Each side was dedicated to the Royal Navy, Merchant Navy, Royal Air Force and Army with a surprising list of names – a huge loss for such an area, though we think it covered quite a large area and several communities. There were a lot of McDonalds, Mackays and McIvers and I wondered if these men were all related or just part of the various clans. I wanted to know their story.
The seemingly heart of the area was a long line of bungalows, the nearest being quite new looking. They looked like they had been dropped from a height and left. No effort to landscape or blend them into the surroundings. There was no style to these buildings either – whoever had planned and designed hadn’t gone any further regarding aesthetics.. Who allowed this to happen? What did the local community think? Then we got to the village school, full of chattering children at playtime (again a surprising amount of young people considering. They obviously must come from far and wide). But these children were in the most appalling architectural building ever. It was a 1960’s concrete abomination of a sloping roofed rectangles stuck together. It was something you’d might just find in a run down inner city council estate, not on a Hebridean island. It was beyond awful and a rusting metal chimney just rubbed salt into the wound.
We walked to the end of the road, shaking our heads. Obviously economics played a big part here with the housing stock – it was not wealthy and buildings had to be built practically, but hell a little thought would of been appreciated. We came across the bus shelter and again sighed in despair – a neglected metal and glass structure with touches of corporate yellow plonked unceremoniously on the roadside. Surely a bus company could be more sympathetic, but it seemed not. We discussed this for a while until we came to the village shop and two pump petrol station.
We needed milk so I went inside and my black mood melted away. A large well stocked community shop, well laid out and with everything you could think of (it was better stocked than my local Co-op which is suffering the UK wide shortages). I was so impressed that I stood amazed. It even had a little laundry and a gift shop. I bought the milk and some other bits and even managed to purchased a box of caddy bags for our little waste bin in the Van!! My heart sang – this was just wonderful. I went outside and excitedly told Hubby who went inside to check it out. While I waited, I read all the notices and posters – there was a lot going on and noted that there were recycling facilities too. Blimey, it had more facilities than my home village!!
Hubby came out wearing a new woolly hat and a big smile on his face. He’s very much about supporting local communities like this and so asked how local the hat was. The lady who served him said it was very local as she had knitted it herself. How wonderful is that?
This little corner of Lewis seemed to cater for everyone and even had a charging point for electric cars! Loved the Caution, children crossing sign too – for the car that came every four hours!
Instead of walking the road, we went down a side lane, passing a Grand Design house which was fantastic, but didn’t quite fit – it had arched roofs and portholes, it stood out against all those little rectangle bungalows (I’m never happy am I?). A little way down was the perfect stone cottage with all the different coloured stones of the area and a lovely rotunda at one end. It was a rental cottage and we peered inside, it was gorgeous too. This is what I had expected all over the island. Happy, we picked up the little footpath again and came back to our bridge. The river was still too deep for me, so the shoes and socks came off again and I walked barefoot all the way back to the Van, my feet naturally exfoliated. We then made the decision not to stay here for the 2 nights as planned – we were due to catch the ferry early tomorrow and Lewis seemed to have more to offer. So we packed up and left money for both nights in a little envelope in the honesty box and retraced our steps from yesterday. With the sun out, we had a completely different perspective – far reaching views, the colours vibrant and even the white pebbled dashed homes complimented the scenery. They were a lovely contrast to the browns and greens. It was all very pleasing.
We finally joined the main road to Tarbert, the scenery just getting better and better by the mile. The mountains loomed up again, huge lochs and sea estuaries, straggly villages in the valleys – the houses all of a similar style. There were a few inhabited stone residences, but many were in a state of dilapidation.
I turned to check on The Dog to discover that she wasn’t on her mat on the floor anymore, but had managed to jump up onto the back seat and was happily watching the world go by. We harness her in, in case we’re in an accident, so she had sort of got herself on a very short leash. She just looked at me with a face that said “yeah, what?”. She never sits on the back seat. Talk about having more front than Brighton – this dog knows how to take the biscuit.
We stopped for lunch in a parking area, high above a sea loch, surrounded by stunning mountains and views. It was just amazing. The sun blazed down. We were now on Harris (though we hadn’t crossed islands, when you look on a map, there is a dividing line on the main island between Lewis and Harris). After an agreeable break, we continued on. Hubby had found out about a campsite down a coastal road, but we couldn’t book it. It only has 5 spaces. We hoped we could get in. We had a brief tour of Tarbert, a lovely little town dominated by the ferry terminal and then back to this coastal road. We had been doing a lot of “wow” “that’s stunning” “ how gorgeous”, general oohing and arring for the last couple of hours and now we went into overdrive. Every turn, there was an amazing view. Our neighbour back home had told us how stunning Lewis and Harris was and he was right. The road had signs mentioning the word “challenging” and it was. Narrow with steep drops, bends and blind summits, Hubby held onto the steering wheel and kept telling me “I daren’t look at the scenery, just the road!”. The scenery is jaw dropping. We travelled about 16 miles which takes 40 minutes along this road – we turned one corner and there’s this amazing castle! It’s full of surprises, this road!
Finally we dropped down to Hushinish, literally at the end of the road. On our right was an enclosed area with a campervan in it, on the other side, the sea. We pulled into the gate, followed by another VW which has followed us most of the way. We thought he was coming here and didn’t want to let him past in case he snucked the last spot. The camper already there informed us it was on a first come, first served basis. Luckily there was just the three of us – can you imagine driving all the way there and discover it full and having to go all the way back to Tarbert? Crushing.
You have to text the payment through for the night’s stay. It’s all based on honesty again which is wonderful. £15 – fantastic. The view across the sea was outstanding, the sun starting to set. We had about 3 hours before the sun really went down. So we walked down the road to a little bay of pure sand and again, shoes and socks off and walking in the surf. The Dog was so happy – two beaches in one day!!! We then walked over the hill to the other side – a short walk on a grassy path down to a pier with a couple of parked cars. Another bay with cliffs and coves. We walked up another hill and spotted a man on the edge fishing. Opposite was another island with houses. In the distance another sandy spot. It was endless.
We started to walk back to the Van, past another little parking area next door to a small building housing a loo block and a cafe. Campervans were parked here too, their roofs popped up. There was recycling bins, chemical toilets and drinking water too. Out in the middle of nowhere, but had everything you needed. It was just great. We took the long hill back up to the Van and set her up, before getting the chairs out and sat overlooking the sea, glass of wine in hand. A hired motorhome had parked next door and it’s occupants talking in a language I couldn’t pick up. They were unintentionally loud as a family, just slightly irritating when you just want to watch the sun set and be at peace with the world.
The sun finally slid down behind an island, the temperature dropping immediately. It had been a balmy 13 degrees today with the sun out. Flying insects hovered above us, thankfully not midges, but we hoped they didn’t join us inside. We put everything away and retreated indoors, having soup for tea. It had been a splendid day – our decision to move on was a good one and the discovery of this perfect corner of Harris.
Tomorrow an early start to catch the ferry back to the mainland. Our job tonight is to figure out where we go next for an adventure.
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.
Was woken up rudely by a big paw in the mouth. The Dog was keen to check that I had survived the night and thought it fit to dig me out of bed. Thanks.
It was lovely to sleep in a proper bed for the night. We get up and bagged the shower before the others get up, sort the Van out as we had pulled out everything late last night without any finesse and it looks a tip. With everybody packing cars, we get ready first and keep well out of their way.
It was raining hard with a stiff breeze when we first woke up, but as we got organised, the sun broke through the clouds and Loch Torridon lit up. Silver rivulets ran down the mountainsides, the streams and waterfalls full of cascading water and the sun glinted off the wet rocky outcrops. It was a beautiful sight. Finally we were all ready to leave and we said our goodbyes to each other before heading off. Again, we have the long 10 mile stretch of road back to Kinlochewe to contend with, where we turn left to Gairloch and ultimately Ullapool. The satnav wants to take us right on the shorter route, but this way is far more scenic.
At Gairloch, we stopped at The Gale cafe, a community run establishment for elevenses of coffee and cake. We bagged a window seat overlooking the bay while we eat, then we have a look around, buying some postcards and then headed back to the Van and onto Ullapool. With the sun out between the clouds, the light is gorgeous. The scenery gets even better here with purply blue mountains in the far distance and huge craggy eminences looking like sleeping giants, the contrasting shadows and light playing across the vast expanse, making it just look spectacular. This is pure wilderness with nothing around for miles – not sure there’s any sheep here. There’s the odd cluster of dwellings, old and new and you wonder how they live – food, fuel, what do they do? We even come across a solitary phone mast far from anywhere and wonder its purpose. Then we dropped down to the coast – big wide bays with big blue skies – just an ever changing scene with such contrasts. Just fabulous. It doesn’t get much better.
We finally drove into Ullapool with a list on our minds. First fuel – as we were going to the island of Lewis we wanted to have a full tank so we didn’t have to worry about finding petrol stations. Second – get the ferry tickets for Lewis reprinted at the terminal and thirdly, stock up with food. Tomorrow’s campsite could be isolated and basic.
So imagine our dismay to see a queue on the road as we passed Ullapool’s one and only petrol station. Oh dear, a shortage of fuel? And which one? As we turned around to rejoin it, a fellow VW camper beat us to the queue. On closer inspection, we realised that a whopping great big motorhome had basically taken the entire centre of this dinky station, while another motorhome which had parked behind him, had blocked the rest of the garage off to everyone else, neither of them realising they were creating chaos behind them. The queue was getting longer until the VW guy in front managed to squeeze past the motorhome in front and we followed. The two of us filled up simultaneously while the second motorhome lumbered into position and again blocked off about 4 pumps due to his size. Filled up, we pulled away and two more vehicles took our spots and normal service resumed. Think a lot of motorists were cussing motorhomes as they waited to fill up their tanks……
We hunted down our campsite on the shores of Loch Broom and found a lovely spot looking up the Loch and out to sea. It was now raining and the wind was getting up – our blue skies having disappeared. The rain eased as we did some nesting – plugging in electrics, popping up the roof etc – and we headed into town a few minutes walk away. The ferry terminal wasn’t open til 4pm when the next ferry docked and the local convenience store was shut too. Mmm. So we had a wander around and found a lovely deli to get our provisions and an outdoor camping shop to get a plastic water container for our grey water waste and a tick remover. We discovered about four ticks on The Dog this morning and struggled with our existing one to remove them. Flushed with a little success, we headed back to the Van for a cuppa while we waited for everything to open. The shops in Ullapool seem to be splattered all over the place, down back streets and in between houses. There doesn’t seem to be one central street of shops. Perhaps it was done like that to make everybody walk the whole of Ullapool to see it properly.
After an hour or so, we donned our wet weather jackets as it was starting to rain again. We went back to the terminal and got the tickets sorted (you have to book pets separately and they don’t confirm immediately- in our case two weeks later, when we’re already on holiday and failed to pack a printer). The convenience store was still firmly shut (we only wanted milk) and so skipped across to the fish and chip shop for tea (and a sausage for The Dog) and did a quick walk back to the Van to eat it. It was delicious and huge. They did have a larger option so dread to think how big that was!!! We mixed the sausage into The Dog’s usual food. She last ate a proper meal on Thursday evening when our friends had some leftover chicken and rice which got wolfed down. She turned her nose up at her regular food and this morning, she picked out all the cheese we had added as an incentive and left the dog food. Albeit she had been scrounging and snacking on dog biscuits and bits of human food, but basically she hadn’t eaten for the last 36 hours. She does this quite often – not eat for a day. I wished I could do that. I can’t fast for 3.6 hours let alone 36. I need to more Dog.
With us all clearing our plates and bowls, tidying up and feeling a little bored by 6:30, we decided to go for a walk. The wind had dropped completely and the dark brooding rain clouds had dispersed and allowed the sun to set behind the opposite hills. Chunks of pale blue sky appeared as we wandered along the shoreline of Loch Broom, watching the Lewis ferry depart from the mainland, its lights bright in the darkening sky. We would be on that tomorrow morning, chugging out to the open sea.We found a large grassy field with a well worn path that we followed, taking us in a big round circle, alongside a fast flowing river. The Dog was off lead and enjoyed poking around in the undergrowth. We wandered back, peering into other vans and motorhomes seeing what the occupants were up too. We prepared ourselves for the evening, setting up the bed so we could watch catch up tv on the iPad and then relaxing.
Tomorrow was going to be an exciting day – a 2.5 hour ferry trip to the Outer Hebrides and the Isle of Lewis, with a campsite right on the beach. Weather is looking good for the next few days and The Dog would have a beach to run on and be very very happy. Life was good.
A good nights sleep in the Van. Got it sussed now with sleeping bag and blankets – it’s quite cosy now. It’s rained overnight and squalls of showers come through, the raindrops bouncing noisily off our roof.
We dozed until about 8:30, when we think it’s polite time (and at least somebody will be up) to enter the house for breakfast. The mountains on the other side of the loch are dark and scuffed by low cloud, but a little while later, it all lifts and the sun pokes its head out, albeit briefly and makes a rainbow. We have seen so many rainbows since arriving yesterday – really vibrant ones, full ones, half ones, double ones and faint ones. The full spectrum of rainbows and a wonder to watch. Three of the gang go off to bag another Munro (one of the team left early this morning to head home) and wrap up for bad weather walking. Our four other remaining friends decided to drive up towards Gairloch, so we bunged The Dog in the boot of their car and joined them. The sky is heavy with cloud, but high enough for us to admire the mountains and the jagged rocks, staring high up to their summits. We retrace the road back to Kinlochewe and turn left alongside Loch Maree. The clouds parted to let the sun out and to showcase this beautiful valley, the heathers dark brown and golds covering the mountainsides. White fluffy clouds and brilliant blue sky make a stunning backdrop as we drove to Victoria Falls and parked up. We walked up the rough track, then the little path leading to a wooden platform. A small, but impressive waterfall plunges down the rock into the pool below, bubbling and gurgling. After a few photos, we walked further up to an outcrop of rock where the river flows before channeling down towards the waterfall. The small window of fine weather soon disappears as a black cloud appears over the mountains and gently rains on us. We have a wander further up, admiring Loch Maree and the countryside beyond before the rain cloud catches it, making us retreat back to the cars.
We drove a few more miles further up towards Gairloch before we branched off left down a small road and to the Badachro Inn, nestling on the waters edge of a little pretty bay. Small boats tethered to buoys, bobbed in the choppy waters as we searched for otters and seals. We had to wait for the pub to open, so lurked on their wooden patio admiring the bay until the dark menacing cloud crept in from the west made us seek shelter under pub awning. Finally, the landlord let us in and we grabbed seats in the conservatory, ordered beer and six Cullen skink soups with a roll. Three beautiful little Spaniels bounded in and said hello to The Dog, who sniffed and greeted them without fuss. It’s now raining permanently, the background disappearing in mist. The skink is delicious and thoroughly enjoyed. We finished our beers and feeling satisfied, headed off for a brief visit to a little gift shop and a general wander before going back to the cars – think we’ve exhausted what Badachro has to offer. Not wanting to go into Gairloch, we decided to head back to the house. We have to take the same route back whether we like it or not – it’s the only road. The weather is closing in and deteriorating as we drive back – the winds are picking up and it’s raining constantly now.
Once back, we make a cuppa and have cake, settling in the sunroom. Hubby and The Dog go for a walk along the bay road in the rain, while I pulled down the pop up roof of the Van due to the gusty winds. We’re not quite sure of its tolerances and don’t fancy being open topped for the rest of the trip – it’s expected to be 45mph winds this afternoon – rather be safe than sorry. The Loch has white topped waves, the bushes are bent in the wind and the clouds are low and scudding. An afternoon of curling up, reading a good book and chilling. Hubby and The Dog return, slightly damp and we wonder how the Munro baggers are getting on.
The three walkers finally return looking happy if not slightly bedraggled. They hopped into hot showers while we get ourselves ready. About 6pm, we jumped into cars and headed to the Torridon Hotel, some 5 miles around the other side of the Loch, to the Bo and Muc restaurant where we’ve booked tables. For some reason, they have put us on two separate tables which isn’t very conducive for chatting and enjoying a good meal together, but it’s not a real problem. We order some excellent food and wine and enjoyed a convivial evening before driving, with stomachs like large beach balls, back in the dark along single track, unlit, potholed roads.
We relaxed back in the sunroom while others starting packing – their holidays finish tomorrow and they have a long drive home back to Leeds. So there’s a little activity, The Dog crashes in the middle of the carpet, making everyone step over her and gradually one by one, we hit the sack.
With one of the party left this morning, we bagged his now empty twin bedded room and take the opportunity to sleep in a proper bed for a night. We raid the Van for our sleeping bags, pillows and bottom sheet and set up in the bedroom – we’ve only brought in our bag of clothes, but the room looks a real mess – stuff everywhere. Perhaps because we have to be super tidy and organised in the Van, we’re making the most of the spare space while we can! It looks like we’ve been burgled. It’s also been bliss to have a shower albeit a dribbly one – isn’t the most powerful shower, but it’s hot and does its job. With The Dog on her bed in the corner, also appreciating being able to stretch out properly for the first time in days, we all settle down for the night.