Scottish 500 – Day 10

Heading south today.

We’re on a schedule today. We’ve got a ferry to catch.

We googled the ferry times last night and aimed to catch the 9.45am back to the mainland. Of course, we woke ridiculously early. We laid in, then packed up and headed off.

We arrived at Craigurn where you catch the ferry. It’s a little village strung along the Loch edge and in the centre, there’s a large concrete apron and a pier for the ferry. It’s a bit of a bigger operation here as this runs to Oban. They even have a ticket office. A lady perched on a stool ushers us into lane 5 and we nip in to get a ticket. Outstanding prices too. £20 for our motorhome, us and the dog for a 50 minute trip. Bargain.

And boy, isn’t it busy. The ferry is just disgorging it’s load from Oban and there’s coaches, large delivery lorries, cars, motorhomes, bikes and pedestrians pouring off. It’s positively teeming. We’ve rocked up in time for the 8.40 Crossing (so rubbish at timing) which gives us more time travelling.

We head on to the top deck, but there’s a brisk cool wind. The day is again glorious with not a cloud in the sky and the early morning colours are wonderful. The shorts have made a re-appearance, but the jacket is on while we’re on the ferry. The deck is swarming with Americans on a coach tour of Scotland and heading back to the mainland. The Dog happily sits and watches, seemingly unfazed by this new experience. She has been on ferries before, but it’s been a while. She’s a strange dog, as if a cushion falls on her or a door bangs, she freaks out and almost leaps into your arms. A smelly clanking ferry and that’s fine.

The crossing is smooth. We pass a cruise ship anchored out in the Loch, ferrying its own passengers to Oban. We are soon docking too and head back into the bright sunlight and Oban. Oban looks a charming little town, but we don’t linger. To avoid the tortuous winding road from Crianlarich to Tarbet, down the side of Loch Lomond we take a different route, heading to Loch Awe and then turn down towards Inveraray. We’re seeing Scotland at it’s glorious best with the sun glinting off the mountains and just bringing out the colours, especially the vivid yellows of the gorse. Just spectacular.

We stop at Inveraray for elevenses and a walk. It’s a pretty place, but a tourist hotspot. We have a wander and find a little cafe we’ve eaten in before. Hubby asks for beans on toast with an egg, expecting it to arrive on one plate on top of one another, but it’s all served separately – a bowl of beans, toast on a side plate and just the egg looking forlorn on another. Mmm. He’s not impressed having to construct his own breakfast. Then a large well built middle aged man walks in with two American lady acquaintances dressed in a kilt, socks with the little dagger tucked in and a sporran, spoiling the look with a rugby shirt of some description. He’s certainly eye catching. Has he done it to impress the good ladies? I kind of admired him to have the confidence to wander about like that as kilts are usually reserved for weddings, evening wear and other occasions, and not first thing in the morning.

We continue our journey, dropping down to Tarbet on the edge of Loch Lomond, to a proper two lane road, the first one in 10 days. It’s all quite novel. At Dumbarton, traffic queues were forming northbound as a Bank Holiday weekend was looming – glad we weren’t in that. We were now in the suburbs of Glasgow, back in the land of petrol stations, retail parks, housing estates, queues, traffic lights and other 21st century paraphernalia. We managed to miss the turn off for the Erskine Bridge (overgrown trees covering vital road signs – it’s getting more and more common and one of my bugbears when navigating), so a slight detour and a 360 soon sees us back on the M8 and scooting through the centre of Glasgow. Once south of Glasgow, we get off the motorway and follow a little B road, through countryside and little communities. We finally reach Moffat which we had earmarked as a stopover. It’s a delightful little town built in sandstone and has some lovely old buildings. We discover the site is a Caravanning and Camping Club site which has members, but they do let in waif and strays like us. Staff jumped on bikes to escort us to our pitch, which was quite quirky – they make sure that we’re happy and cycle off to find another camper needing guidance. One of the Club’s policies is to ensure that pitches are so many metres apart from each other which is a nice feature – you know you’re not going to get an idiot setting up on top of you and invading your space.

We settle down in our little corner and catch the late afternoons rays. Hubby manages to get invited into another campervan and gets a tour. I track him down and poke my head in. It’s a 2 year old vehicle and it’s all black and white, immaculate, very modern and has its own bed. The owner is very proud of it and we’re very jealous. We don’t invite him to admire our 13 year old hired home, but hey, it’s done us proud yet again and it’s ticked a lot of boxes.

The dog exercising area here might be adequate for Chihuahuas, but totally inadequate for my hound. We head off to find the river, but cannot get to it. So we go for a walk into town and mooch into the little independent shops and admire the town generally. Then we walk to the Co-op for pizzas for tea before heading back to the van to consume them and the last of the wine. It’s a glorious evening to sit outside and we people watch, while munching our food.

How do you explain camping to an alien? People voluntary abandon their nice comfortable homes to spend a fortnight in a box on wheels, have to deal with emptying chemical toilets, share your ablutions with total strangers in a communal shower block which can be a bit to be desired at times and basically live in a field. No wonder aliens take one look at this crazy planet and fly past.

The Caravanning Club do attract a certain breed of camper though and tonight was no exception. The people around us looked like the types who wash and buff their Ford Mondeos in the drive every Saturday morning regardless. They would shop in Marks and Spencer’s and always rock up at the same cashier in the supermarket. People of habit. One of our fellow campers had dragged out a small satellite dish, positioned it outside his caravan and tuned into Highlands TV. Another was washing and buffing his car windows, though it wasn’t Saturday. The man across the way was checking doors, fittings and the general well being of his caravan before erecting a large stripey windbreak outside his door, staking out his little bit of hired Scotland. Two couples had got together and were happily enjoying a bottle of wine, before suddenly and abruptly parting, taking their respective chairs back and heading indoors. It was 8pm. Perhaps their favourite TV soap was on. Another husband and wife were enjoying the outdoors but were inexplicably facing the side of their van. We were thoroughly enjoying watching our fellow humans and their camping habits.

The evening was glorious, very warm and we were content. It was our last night in our little home on wheels, back home tomorrow and we had mixed emotions. We loved this little vehicle and the adventures we had been on, the places we had seen, the gorgeous scenery. Our motorhome has done a grand job pulling us around Scotland, not missed a beat and catered for our every need. We enjoyed every single minute of it and we celebrated. We celebrate a great holiday and the fact that tonight is the very last flipping night of wrestling to put up our bed before we can crash into it!

Scottish 500 – Day 8

A change of plans.

Again it’s overcast and cloudy, but it’s not raining!!!

After the usual tea and biscuits, we decamp and drive to Portmahomack, a pretty little harbour village out on the peninsula beyond Tain. It’s lovely with views back to the high fells and traditional cottages curving around the bay. After yesterday, we’re eager to relieve the cabin fever and waddle along the beach. It’s a good bracing walk, but the wind is cold still and layers and hats are the de rigeur.

We had planned to go to Tain Ness, but it’s even further and in the wrong direction. Means that we would have to drive all the way back. The guide book says it’s got a lighthouse and you might see dolphins, but it’s a long way just for that. So we ditch that idea and decide to check out the Black Isle as someone has told us that a bakery in Cromarty does stonking rock cakes. So we drive back to the A9, catching glimpses of the oil and gas rigs moored outside Invergordon. I felt like dropping down to see them, but thought there would be better views from the other side. Despite the name, Black Isle is still part of the mainland and not detached at all. Why it’s called that, I’m not too sure. So we trundle on, briefly visiting a town called Alness, which has won Britain in Bloom and I was hoping to see a street festooned in flowers and brilliant colours. But it was bare and was an ordinary little town – decent enough, but not enough for us to stop and one of many we had already seen. I did expect some floral display too.

Disappointed, we rejoined the A9 and make a decision. According to the guide book, the Black Isle has nothing particularly intriguing for us to make a huge detour and we are getting a little bored with the gentle undulating scenery. It’s pretty and lovely, but we prefer the raw, breath taking mountains on the west. So after a cuppa and croissants in a lay-by, we map out our route. We set off towards Dingwall, a lovely little town and back towards the Ord of Muir and Beauly, where we stopped last week at the beginning of our trip. We had sort of done the Scottish 500 – technically you’re suppose to go back to Inverness, but hey ho. Beauly was still lovely and we resisted revisiting the little deli – bad timing as we had just munched through croissants and other pastries. We take a back road towards a place called Crannich as we had seen signposts for the Bog Cotton cafe. We seem to drive for miles, and we were back onto the old single track/passing place sort of road. The signs for the cafe had stopped and we were fearing the worse! We didn’t have much food on board and it could be a bit of a funny lunch. But with a huge cheer, the signs re-appeared and we were soon sitting down and ordering. It’s still overcast and moody. The Bog Cotton cafe is next door to quite a nice looking campsite, nestling in the woods, but it also looks like it could be Midge Central.

We had stocked up with more insect repellent than someone traveling in the depths of a Borneo jungle and had rattled around like a sub branch of Boots the Chemist, but we had timed this trip right, and seemed to be ahead of the midge season. This campsite looked like it could be a night mare in the summer. Anyway, it was a bit early for us to be booking in, so with hubby wanting to take me up Glen Affric, we bounced our way up the valley. It’s quite a way to a spot he knows and along the way, we pass huge hydro electricity stations, some quite elaborate and decorative. But between the trees, power lines scathe their way through and my heart sinks. All the way along this road, there are warning signs for construction traffic and there’s obviously major work being carried out for some reason (probably for the hydro electricity). Ugly access roads scar the surrounding beauty of this stunning valley. It’s quite atmospheric with the low cloud seeping it’s way through the trees and hanging on the peaks. The cottages and villages are pretty here too. This is the type of landscape we love and we enjoy a good hours walk through the woods. What would it look like on a sunny day, if we’re wowing about it in this dank weather. Apparently it’s even more stunning further up the valley where it’s gets really remote. One to return to, I think.

We retrace our steps back to Crannich, despairing of man’s ugly footprint and thankfully we haven’t met anything large like a construction vehicle. We drop down to Loch Ness and head to Fort Augustus for the night. Once there, we find the proposed campsite closed and under new management. Our hearts drop. We need a rest, so we wander Fort Augustus with its stunning lock system in the centre of the village and stroll down to Loch Ness itself. It’s a bit of a honeypot for tourists, so it’s full of the usual shops which are now closed for the day. After our stretch, we quickly google for another site. There’s one at Invergarry, further down towards Fort William. The Dog sighs heavily as we lock her in and share our sympathy with her. 10 miles later, we pull off onto a side road and climb up a little track. Where is this going? It twists and turns, and we seem to be heading up the side of the mountain. But then, it flattens out, we turn right and we find the most delightful, quirky campsite. Nestling in a clearing, it’s high in the forest, with individual camping areas, a good fifty foot plus from the next people. Each one has a picnic table too. Our initial reservations soon melt away, though we are concerned that we are quite close to a pond and fear midges may be lurking. We do the van ablutions – the chemical toilet is housed in little shed reminiscent of the little loo Grandpa Potts uses in the film, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. It makes me love this place more.

We have been a big fail on the food front and have to scrape the bottom of the proverbial barrel or in this case, fridge. It’s cheese, mayo, and very limp leaf sandwich accompanied by wine and peanuts for pudding. To make it worse, we have no biscuits for the morning as we munched the final two in an earlier trauma today. We have been pretty hopeless with our food planning and not very organised.

We decide to take The Dog on a forest walk which she thoroughly deserves today as the light starts to fade. Cloud still envelopes the mountain tops and not much can be seen. A couple with their dog have the same idea and accompany us on our walk. We follow the path until a large gate and see deer wandering across the field beyond. It’s getting darker now and we turn heels and head back. It’s 10.30 by the time we reach our little pitch, but not quite dark. We sit outside in the gloom and finish of the bottle of wine, feeling quite content with ourselves.

Sorry for the lack of photos today. It just wasn’t a photographic day, weather wise. In tomorrow’s blog, you’ll probably get an overload………

Scottish 500 – Day 7

Onwards and upwards

Oh dear.

There’s raindrops sliding down our windows.

It’s cold, damp and misty. You can’t see across the fields.

Breakfast is taken at the Laidhay Croft Museum just up the road. We treat ourselves to a Scottish breakfast. Outside is a restored crofters cottage, fully furnished and with a story behind it. It’s just wonderful and thought how many have been lost. It’s quite sad.

http://laidhay.co.uk/

In a light drizzle, we follow the A99. The countryside is now rolling hills and full of trees. The road gradually climbs up to the edge of moorland. There are pretty houses and villages, stone cottages and buildings replacing the pebbledash. We pass Berriedale, snug in a little ravine and tumbling towards the sea. With the rain becoming more persistent, we miss out Helmsdale and continue to Brora. We need to stretch our legs and the rain has eased off, so we make the most of it. We park in the golf course car park, and drop down on a long gentle beach. Low mist hangs in the hills. We walk so far and turn around. We clamber up to the edge of the links golf course and are amaze to spot cows grazing on it as golfers play their rounds. You don’t see that at the Ryder Cup. Small electric fences surround the greens to protect them. It’s all quite surreal.

Yes, there are cows in the background!

It starts to mizzle again, so we retreat into the van. With the low mist, scenery is obscured. We turn off and go inland, following the scenic route along Strath Fleet towards Lairg. It’s cold and drizzly, not inviting at all. We have a quick look at Lairg, grab a drink and a chocolate bar, and carry on. We stop at the Falls of Shin, where a brand new visitors centre and parking area has been constructed. It’s quite large and seems a bit out of place in the woodland. We have a quick wander down to the small viewing platform to the waterfall. It’s pretty, but it’s not in full spate and not dramatic. We hope to see a leaping salmon, but the best time is in the autumn. We wander the visitor centre which is impressive, but seems over the top for the actual Falls.

Getting rather wet, we carry on, stopping briefly, but with the mist down, any views are limited. We travel through Bonar Bridge, Spinningdale and to the coast. We head to Durnoch, a pretty little town, reminding us of the Cotswolds with the sandstone buildings. We find the campsite by the beach, but it’s more a caravan park with static caravans and rather large. We’re not keen and head back into town. We stop and have a wander around, spotting the other branch of the Cocoa Mountain from Durness.

But the miserable conditions are not helping and we seek another campsite, this time in a town called Tain. Another pretty town, but we realise the campsite is back on the A9 and we have to retrace our steps. Tired, we book in. It’s a pleasant, neat campsite sandwiched between a road and a railway line (to the delight of The Dog who can bark and try and chase the passing trains). The weather has closed in and it’s raining steadily. I take The Dog for walk, but don’t get very far as it’s a bit restricted where you can go. And we’re getting wet. Poor old thing – she hasn’t had any good walks today and cooped up in the motorhome. We return, curl up and listen to the rain pattering on the roof. This is when motorhoming isn’t so great – when the weather is inclement and you’re stuck inside. Hey ho, lets hope it’s better tomorrow – we’ve been so lucky so far with the Scottish weather, so we can’t complain.

Tomorrow, we near the completion of the Scottish 500 but have another little adventure!

Scottish 500 – Day 6

The journey continues.

It’s rained overnight.

We’re off pretty sharpish this morning as there’s not much to see in Thurso – shops that every British High Street has got and we’re not town people really.

Thurso’ seafront.

Our first port of call is a few miles up the road to Castletown where there’s the Flagstone Trail and Museum. Sadly the museum is shut until 2pm and we peer through the gates at a pretty cottage garden and a lovely little building. It’s the first place I’ve actually liked in appearance and wished the rest of Caithness could be the same.

The Trail was a path interspersed with faded information boards and the remains of the flagstone mills were in disrepair and being overtaken by weeds and trees. We wandered down to the harbour area and to another building which was open to the elements. We went inside, but it was dark, gloomy and filled with rubbish. We half expected to find a homeless person in there and I looked for needles, fearing for The Dog’s paws. Oh for just some funding and this could be a great little tourist place. It is hard as this part of Scotland is so far from anything, so there are not the milling crowds of the Lake District or the Yorkshire Dales, so nothing is really developed to a grand scale. But tourism would be a great bonus. It’s a vicious circle and there are no easy answers.

We drive up to Dunnet Head, the most Northern point of mainland Britain, through flat farmland and dotted communities. There is a lighthouse here, freshly painted in white and yellow, but closed to the public. World War Two has visited here too with the flat roofed buildings scattered around. Again, it could be made into a proper tourist attraction.

The views here are fantastic with a 360 degree vista. It’s very windy (nothing to stop it) and very cold. The layers are back and the woolly hat has made an appearance too. We walk up to the trig point and some information boards. It’s so windy it’s even making our dog’s short ears flap wildly. It’s quietly beautiful in a strange way and weird to think that this is the end of Britain and looking south, there’s some 700 miles to the other end.

We saunter back to the motorhome and chug onto John O’Groats. This is a strange place. A mere hamlet if anything, with some fantastic holiday chalets clad in wood and look very modern inside. Then a parking area surrounded by low level buildings housing a tourist information, a few cafes and other outlets, but a few units are empty and gives you the impression it’s struggling a bit. The eponymous sign is there with a small queue while some bike riders photograph each other several times indifferent poses. Beyond that is the harbour where buckets of crabs were being unloaded and to the left, an imposing hotel with brightly coloured cladding at one end. And that was about it.

We walked into a well stocked shop which seemed to sell every piece of tat possible. It was possibly bursting. We sat in its scruffy little cafe and had a sausage sandwich and a coffee. Then a quick visit to the tourist information for camping information, which was equally overwhelmed with merchandise and we took our leave, cursing after spotting a more convivial eating house nearby. Maybe the cool, overcast weather didn’t help, but John O’Groats looked scruffy and downbeat, and was there for just one reason. It could be so much better.

We headed to Duncansby Head which also had a lighthouse, brightly painted and wandered across the grasslands to see the Duncansby Stacks, huge rock towers left stranded when the sea washed it away. To our delight, we walked past a thin inlet which is habited by nesting birds and amongst the squawking masses was a little puffin. Another one to cross off the list. By now the sun was winning its battle against the heavy clouds and it started to warm up. We had a lovely stroll to overlook the stacks and along the cliff edge, watching the birds. We jump back in the motorhome and pick up the A99 and head south.

There are good views to be had across the fields to the coast with castles and brochs to be seen. We drop down into Keiss and discover a fine little harbour with the harbour offices still intact and built of stone. We pick up a path and walk to Keiss Castle, a derelict, but mainly intact building perched on the edge of the cliffs and nearby a tall, imposing Manor House. Here we see seals basking on the rocks. It’s very scenic and impressive.

We retrace our steps and continue to Wick for a campsite. We find it on the outskirts between a railway line, a river and an electrical sub station. To get it we have to do a detour unless we want to rip our roof off with a low level bridge. It’s not floating our boat and not wanting yet another town stop. So we plough on, passing a possible stop at Loch Hemspriggs which is right by the main road and looks boring and boggy. We drive down a side road to Sarclet to eat a late lunch and look out to sea towards the oil and gas rigs and the bases of an intended wind farm. The sun has lost its battle with the clouds and retreated. At Lybster, we drive through its ridiculously wide, but handsome Main Street with its terraced stone houses (though some have been pebble dashed! It should be a criminal offence) and drop down into its little harbour. What a little gem of a place and it gets better as there’s a cafe and it’s open. The lady in charge was about to shut up for the day, but insists on making us coffees and ends up chatting to us for ages. It snuggles into a little inlet, the harbour is neat and tidy, the cafe is part of a large old warehouse with a small museum and a lighthouse on the end. We wander around, so pleased to find this little hidden treasure and wondered how many came to visit it.

It was such a welcome change from the flat, monotonous, uninspiring, treeless countryside we’d been through. Treeless fields with bungalows that stuck out like sore thumbs. Sorry Caithness. Now the landscape was starting to undulate and trees were making a comeback. We drive to a small hamlet of Dunbeath and just off the A99, a delightful little campsite and B&B. A tiny little site with probably no more than a dozen pitches, it had the most wonderful shower block. I’m not one to frequent these places, preferring the privacy of the van, but here you had your own modern and clean bathroom (one of three) and I relished it.

We sat outside chatting to a Dutch couple as the sun re-appeared again and relaxed. We had started to rate the campsites on our route and this one was winning by far. Just perfect and I spot a plover. Good day for wildlife. Big hills and fells beckoned in the distance as well as some dark brooding clouds. At 10pm to stretch our legs,we strolled up the lane and remarked on the strange twilight – we all had faint shadows. On the return, we studied the rigs far out to sea, now glowing with light, which was quite ethereal.

We crash out tonight. The Dog doesn’t need to. She’s looked shattered all day and given up on her guarding of the motorhome. Her diet has been as nearly as bad as ours and we’ve lost count on how many sausages have passed her lips. Hey ho, that’s what you do when you’re on holiday.

Tomorrow we inch further down the coast towards Inverness.

Scottish 500 – Day 5

The North Coast

No messing this morning, we’re up and off. Durness for breakfast!

We stop briefly at Laxford Bridge as our guide book says it’s a good place to spot otters, but alas, we fail yet again. I think you have to sit for days in the same spot for even a chance of seeing a fleeting head. Our stomachs were starting to complain, so we hurried on.

The cragginess opens out to a beautiful wide sandy estuary of the Kyle of Durness and with the sunshine weakly pushing its way through the high clouds, its looks stunning. We skirt Durness and turn left to Balnakeil to the Balnakeil Craft Village. Here lies the old buildings of the wartime radio station base, which has been taken over by jewellers, knitters, artists and other talented people. The armed forces of World War 2 used this corner of Scotland to practice landings, hide submarines and have outlying radio stations. At Cape Wrath, they still practice live shelling and bombing! The tall and numerous radio masts have long gone, but the low flat roofed offices remain and one of the them houses the hot chocolate!

https://balnakeilcraftvillage.weebly.com/

The Cocoa Mountain cafe didn’t do breakfasts as such, so we satisfied ourselves with amazing hot chocolates and a bun drizzled with thick gooey chocolate. Again, I was baffled how a trendy cafe was in the middle of nowhere and clearly thriving. It had a small work room next door and they were producing more chocolate confectionery than just for the cafe. Where did that go (later in the trip, near Inverness, we discovered another branch of Cocoa Mountain, but it was miles and hours away). We presumed it was online orders. I was pleased that they were doing so well in such a remote spot.

To walk off our excessive chocolate intake, we drive up to Balnakeil Bay and enjoy a long walk along beautiful golden sands. The Dog is very happy.

Here, as we start our walk, there’s another isolated, but impressive cemetery, sitting on the edge of the beach.

We retrace our steps back to Durness, another village that is scattered across the vicinity with a small shop and not much else. However, there was a cafe for coffee and cake before heading to Smoo Cave.

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

It’s an impressive cave, accessed by steps down into a small bay. You can visit the first main cave free, but there’s a charge to go in deeper. We had a little investigation but had no inclination to go further. We head back and headed east.

We drive leisurely, then have to drive down Loch Eriboll and back the other side, some 10 miles extra! Lunch is taken on a high position, looking back down the Loch towards the coast. The sun is out properly now and the views are stunning. We continue on, the landscape softening as we leave the mountains behind us. It’s more moorland and distant peaks, but no less dramatic. We drop into little valleys where small communities snuggle. We stop at Tongue for a ice cream, but time is getting on and we need a place to stop. We haven’t wild camped yet which is an option. We think Bettyhill might have one, and head there. The campsite turns out to be a grubby field, with a dilapidated toilet block and an overflowing dumpster. There’s no reception office, but a few shabby static caravans and one hapless pre-booker. We turn tail.

The landscape has now flattened out considerably with gorse bushes. We stop at Melvich as there’s a pub with a campsite. On enquiry, there is no room and the gangly youth muttered about Thurso would be the next stop. We’ve basically traversed the whole of the north coast without stopping, in one day, which wasn’t part of the plan. So we plunge onto Thurso, through a decidedly flat and monotonous landscape, devoid of any trees. We pass the Dounreay nuclear plant, which is obviously the biggest employer, but it’s being decommissioned. Where to people work?

There’s plenty of housing dotted around. Pebble dashed modern bungalows seem to be the norm, next door to a crumbling pile of stone which obviously was an old cottage. Nobody seems to renovate here. It’s as if it’s so much cheaper to new build in pebble dash (insulation purposes?) than restore historic little stone cottages which is a great shame. The bungalows look like they’ve been dropped in by helicopter and there’s no effort to landscape gardens or grow trees around them. Perhaps the soil is so poor that it can’t support trees and shrubs. The bungalows become as monotonous as the scenery.

We finally get to Thurso, via a brief visit to neighbouring Scrabster, under the misguided belief there was a campsite. Our overnight spot was just outside the town centre, overlooking the sea but backing onto housing across the road. It was a bit surreal. The bonus was that it had a cafe on site that did fast food. We found our pitch, overlooking the sea, which was nice, but close to the boundary fence which was upright flagstones buried into the ground. Beyond that, there was a public footpath where people walked their dogs and gawped into the campsite. We felt like we were in a fishbowl.

We ordered burger and chips in the cafe and the young girl promised to deliver them to our pitch when they were ready. So we sat outside supping wine and munching our tea, admiring the far flung views in between the wandering people of Thurso.

Afterwards we go and investigate the town and drop down onto the beach. You can see the Orkney Isles. The weather is warm and there is high cloud. We head back to our little motorhome and watch the world and ferries heading off to the Orkneys. For some reason, that low flagstone wall and everybody walking past close to the van, unnerves us a bit. We’ve never come across a site so open to the public before. Weird.

While we were wondering what to eat, a cheerful youth wandered through the site brandishing leaflets for the local takeaway. We have endured deep fried Mars Bars and fried pizza (which even the dog turned her nose up) before in Scotland, but the Munchie Box takes it up a whole new level. And with that, I leave you for the night and til tomorrow when we visit John O’Groats.

Scottish 500 – Day 4

Ullapool and upwards!

What is that grey stuff in the sky? It’s cloud and there’s a lot of it – practically a blanket of it. And it’s quite cool. The shorts, sadly get stuffed back into the bag, to be replaced by jeans, a couple of jumpers and alarmingly a jacket. Hells Bells!

The little motorhome has a small, no a very small bathroom, which has a shower. Usually hubby prefers the campsite facilities but today’s enters the box. Calamity! The water isn’t draining away and I can’t shower! Time for the motorhome’s ablutions and the less glamorous side of travelling. We empty the grey dirty water, fill up with fresh water and deal with the chemical toilet, which isn’t that gruesome, but isn’t on my list of favourite things to do. The emptying of the grey water solves the blocked shower (pheew) but we are baffled that it’s was full so quickly.

But you are talking to two people who last year, filled up the fresh water tank brim full, and then went to the grey water disposal area to get rid of our waste water. We stood and watched for whole minutes – actually hubby went to the loo and back – and it poured and poured. Finally it stopped and we headed off into deepest Cornwall. Pulling up for a cuppa, the water coughed and spluttered out of the taps and we couldn’t solve it. It was early evening when it finally dawned on hubby (I will give him the credit here) that we had mistakenly emptied the fresh water tank instead of the grey water, minutes after we had filled it up. Tragically, we had both individually thought at the time that a) there was helluva lot of water draining, b) it didn’t look very grey and c) hubby thought the tap was different, but failed to vocalise our thoughts to each other………. I will leave you with that one and say no more.

Satisfied that we had carried out this operation correctly, we restored our van to its resting place in the campsite and walked into Ullapool for postcards and a coffee. This time we had a good walk around, primarily as hubby knew of a good cafe, but couldn’t recall where it was exactly. Finally we hunted it down, a small place called Westhouse, the street behind the harbour. We had to sit outside as dogs are not allowed in, so we huddled around our mugs and thanked that it was south facing. Ullapool has a grid layout, like American towns, which is quite unique. It’s all very ordered and easy to negotiate. Exhausting what Ullapool could offer, we headed northwards.

A hint of the surrounding countryside – my photos just don’t do it credit at all.

We drive up the A835, a major road in these parts, though still shoddy. We remark on how many brand new cars there are – practically every one we come across has the current new number plate. We can only hazard a guess that they are all tourist hire cars as we assume that they are not all local.

We pass Knocken and Ledmore to Loch Assynt, then we turn off left onto the A837 towards Lochinver. It’s alarming how many big lorries hurtle along these roads. We’re talking lengthy trailers here. Even on the single track roads, we’ve had big silvery grilles filling our rear window and we’ve used the passing places to let them pass. These guys know these roads and soon disappear over the horizon. Rather have them in front of us than behind.

Arriving in Lochinver, hubby lets out a yell of delight. He’s been here before and knows an excellent pie shop. I like holidaying with him. We wander around the little village nestling against another Loch as it starts to drizzle with rain. Mmm. We spot one of our large articulated lorries that we saw yesterday, parked in a car park and find it has transformed itself into a cinema! Yes, you read it right, a cinema. The sides expand outwards so it trebles it’s width and you can go and watch a film. Alas, it was closed so we couldn’t go in and have a peek, but what a fantastic idea. It just tours around to all these little communities and shows them a film. Parked next door, was the mobile banking van, presumably so you can get cash to go to the mobile cinema.I just love that.

The mobile cinema – isn’t that just brilliant?

The Pie Shop had a huge selection of different pies and fillings and we spent many minutes choosing. I had sweet potato and butternut squash. That’s our tea tonight sorted. We poodle around a little more, but with the rain becoming a little more persistent, we retreat to the van and continue our journey. We’re back on the dinky little roads with tight bends and blind summits. In patches, the road has been treated with smooth tarmac for a few metres, which gives us brief respite from the constant rattling and thuds, but it’s sporadic and done here and there. Another subject to contemplate as well as the sudden widening of the road to two lanes and then nope, it shrinks back to one. Bizarre.

We pass Clachtoll, but it looks scruffy and uninviting. The houses are dotted randomly around the area and there is no heart to the place. We come across Clashnessie next (what fabulous names), a scattered huddle of houses in a non descript bay, but with a lay-by and a fantastic sandy beach. I take The Dog for a run, a chase of her ball and an accidental swim in the sea when I misjudge the throw of the tennis ball and it plops into the waves, closely followed by hound. However, the beach drops away and The Dog sinks as she jumps in. She recovers, grabs ball, gets out and shakes all over me as a way of saying thanks.

Slightly damp, we head back where a feast awaits us – sea trout and cream cheese on that homemade bread from yesterday. The cloud still overhangs likes damp duvet. We continue through winding roads and rugged countryside, past lochs still searching for that elusive otter, towering mountains and Munro’s rising in the background. It’s past stunning. It’s true wilderness with boulders, heather, wind beaten trees growing at crazy angles. Truly wonderful.

We stop briefly at Kylesku, to admire the gorse (blimey, the yellow gorse is in abundance here and just adds to the magic) and the majestic bridge crossing the river here. It’s a concrete affair with plain supporting pillars, but it curves gently around and because of its simplicity, it fits in with its surroundings. On this trip there has been some jarring monstrosities dumped unceremoniously which beggars belief – my main gripe initially were powers lines and the accompanying pylons marching across some truly scenic countryside before heading into the uplands, standing defiantly on ridge lines to been seen for miles around. It makes you want to weep. It’s doesn’t seem to be done sympathetically to the surroundings, just the quickest and cheapest route. We all need power, I get it, but sometimes can it be done a little bit better?

The sweeping, simple bridge at Kylesku and the gorse opposite.

We finally call it a day at a place called Scourie, another scattered community, though it did seem to have a Main Street in the distance. Our campsite overlooked a bay and our pitch was on the edge of a small cliff, the downside being that we were on the gravelled area of the park. It seemed almost like the overflow car park. The cloud had lifted a little to allow the sun to poke its head out briefly and we sat outside, but the gravel wasn’t particularly conducive. We wandered down to the sandy beach as far as the cemetery – another thing I love about this part of the world. The cemetery was stuck out on a little bit of headland, away from the village, surrounded by a high wall and gates. Inside tall and decorative gravestones told the family histories of those interned here. They are so fanciful and so full of detail. I love reading headstones and could spend all day there. Afterwards we head to a small Spar for provisions – namely more biscuits for our tea in bed in the morning – and check out the other pebbly beach opposite. There’s a little harbour/jetty so we peer into the deep, bluey green and impossibly clear waters. An otter swimming past would be the cherry on the top, but there’s no volunteers.

My attempt of a panoramic shot at Scourie.

We waddle back to eat our pies. We did buy potatoes in a foil tray, thinking we could bung in the oven and have with said pie, but we had a massive fail when it said on the packet “microwave only” which we were severely lacking. We did get vegetables so they saved the day. We have to construct our little dining table – hidden in a cupboard is a steel post and the table top which slots together and then slots into the floor and hey presto, a table. Last year it took us three days to discover it. At the end, it all fits back into the cupboard out of the way. I just love this quirky little motorhome. The pies, by the way, were delicious.

We spend the rest of the evening outside with binoculars and a glass of wine scanning the gorse covered hillsides for wildlife. We see another eagle swooping in the sky and then another. We look for seals, but it’s just birds diving under the water for fish and bobbing up again. It’s just a lovely way to spend an evening watching the scenery and animals. Soon it’s time to wrestle with putting our bed up and preparing for bed. You have to be so tidy and put bits away. We now got a system that works. We snuggle down to enjoy another perfect nights sleep. It is truly comfortable and we have both slept well. I cannot, however, account for The Dog.

Tomorrow we head to Durness and a mug of the best hot chocolate ever………

Scottish 500 – Day 3

Applecross and beyond………

The sun is pouring through our motorhome windows and it’s looking good. It’s so good that we both scare the other campers and put our shorts on!

The Dog spots more deer, but this time behind deer proof fencing. The deer are unfazed by our dog and she’s now pretty non plus about them too. We do our morning routine – we’ve got our own little jobs to do and then wander back down to the quayside for breakfast. Alas we are 15 minutes early and so loiter on the Loch edge and get our feet and paws wet. The Junction cafe opens at 9am and our plan of eating al fresco on their balcony is soon rejected as it’s rather cool here. So we go inside with The Dog and ordered bacon and sausage butties, with a sausage on the side for The Dog. Yes, we get food for our hound. It’s all very pleasant and very trendy considering we’re in a small hamlet on an isolated coast. A real little gem.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Applecross

We head back and get ready to leave Applecross. Unbelievably, it has a little petrol station too. It’s basically a pump in a little purpose built lay-by opposite the Junction and you stick your credit card in and fill up! A little sign informs us that the local community got together, raised funds and got the site up and running. How amazing is that? I just loved it that everyone joined together – though I can see why they did it. I think the next station was some 20 miles away at least and not very easy to do. It was well worth it, though I pity the poor tanker driver having to deliver the stuff……..

To our delight, we realised that we didn’t have to go over Applecross Pass again and could follow the coastal road north. Phew. It was far easier along the single track road. I looked out for otters as this looked the perfect place for them to be playing on the foreshore. It was rugged, rocky and covered in heather and grass. It was a hard country to eke out a living, but we kept coming across isolated hamlets and houses huddled together. It was strangely beautiful with rocky inlets and pretty little bays as the road undulated and twisted and turned, with white buildings periodically dotted around. What did people do here? Where did they do their shopping? I had a lot of questions and no answers! One thing I knew, you obviously liked your own company here!

We finally found civilisation again in the shape of the village of Sheildaig and stopped at Nanny’s cafe, overlooking a Loch. The wind is quite cool, but the shorts have stayed on, albeit accompanied now by woolly jumpers. Here we enjoy coffee and scones and watch other tourists rock up. It seems that we’re munching our way through Scotland!The sun is shining and there’s not a cloud in the sky. We wander along the front to walk off our snack. We spot a seal bobbing in the water. Later we’re told that there was an otter too, who had been malnourished. The local smokehouse offered him the fish scraps and fed him back to health – he got quite tame apparently, but now had headed off and not seen for 5 days. We stroll up to the smokehouse where we buy some smoked trout and cream cheese. Further along, one of the houses had a little box outside their door, with cakes and bread and a honesty box. We purchase a loaf, drop the coins in the box and wander back to the van. This is what I love about Britain – homeowners trust you to pay for homemade goods outside their homes. I for one, always support them.

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

We meander on, through Torridon and to Kinlochewe. We follow the edge of Loch Maree (its a proper road with two carriageways, white lines and no badly repaired potholes – we have been thoroughly shaken on this journey so far). We stop at Gairloch which has a beach which we have been promising The Dog one since Tuesday. It’s a beautiful wide beach with fantastic soft sand. The shoes come off and we walk barefoot as we watch our dog gamble across to the waters edge. She has a huge grin on her face! We just believe our luck being able to walk on a Scottish beach in full sun with just t-shirts and shorts in the middle of May!

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gairloch

We have a can of pop at the adjacent golf course and continue through the communities of Poolewe, Aultbea, (fascinating story involving Gruinard island, anthrax and the stupidity of governments), Laide and along Little Loch Broom, through Dundonnell and down to Braemore. Finally after miles of single track roads with passing places, we hit the main drag to Ullapool, our stop for the night. We rock up at the Broomfield campsite, right in the centre of town, but abutting Loch Broom. We choose a pitch overlooking the water, hook up the electric, get the chairs and wine out and settle down.

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

The Dog gets an off lead, deer free walk in the field next door before we head off into town on the hunt for fish and chips. We eat them out of the bag sitting by the harbour watching a hapless fisherman trying to get his truculent engine to start on his tiny boat. Behind us is the modern ferry terminal for the boats to Stornaway, though it is a modest building and doesn’t dominate the town. The Dog gets her second sausage of the day.

With the daylight fading, we wander around the town for a bit and head back to the motorhome. We get chatting to a fellow camper with an artificial leg which our dog took objection to and kept barking at him. He’s been on the pebble beach watching six seals playing in the Loch for the past two hours. Just typical. Earlier today, I spotted a large bird which looked like an eagle, sitting on a post. We stopped, thinking he would fly off, but hubby managed to get out with his camera and lined up the shot. Unfortunately he forgot to turn the camera on and the eagle took flight over the hill. Damn! Just not our day to spot wildlife.

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

The sun is setting on the horizon but it’s 10.30 at night. We have fallen asleep without seeing true darkness yet.

Tomorrow we head further north………

p.s. should of taken more photos of the landscape, but it’s so vast, you just wouldn’t catch it in a photo. Or it wouldn’t look as spectacular. It just needs a visit!

Scottish 500 – Day 2

Inverness to wherever……..

We wake up to glorious sunshine, but it’s still cool. As we drove up yesterday, it clouded up and rained, but after our visit to Culloden Battlefield, the clouds parted and offered us a pleasant evening. The great part about being up this far north is the evenings are longer. It’s was still reasonably light at 10.30 last night.

So we were delighted at the clear glorious views across the Moray Firth and distant mountains which still had patches of snow on them. It was lovely. We were awake stupidly early, so have tea and biscuits in bed and relaxed. Then up, dismantle the bed and store things away. We learnt quite early last year when we hired this vehicle, that everything must be locked down – we had carelessly left coats, books, cushions around on the back seating area and after a couple of corners, most of it had slid on the floor and on The Dog who was not impressed. It looked like a seismic event had occurred in our van.

So we put everything in cupboards or stuffed away securely, did our air steward bit making sure the overhead cupboards were closed and shut properly (another one of our failings) and we were off at 8.30am.

The Scottish 500 starts at Inverness and then tracks west. We skirted Inverness via its ring road and headed towards the little town of Beauly, happy with the sunshine and the gorgeous scenery along the Beauly Firth. Beauly itself was charming enough to make us stop and have a wander around. A pleasant little town with a lovely array of independent shops and a little priory with beautiful ancient yew trees. We found a lovely little deli shop with tables and chairs outside and had breakfast – coffee with ginger and rhubarb scones. This was an excellent start to our travels and we just couldn’t believe our luck with the weather as we sunned ourselves on the pavement, watching the world go by.

We continued our travels via Muir of Ord (got slightly lost), Contin and across to Achnasheen. After pleasant fields and gentle hills, the valley widened considerably and the mountains a bit wilder, with snow upon their flanks. We stopped in a lay-by to admire – a little single gauge railway line meanders through and little 2 carriage sprinter rattled through, much to The Dog’s delight as she’s an avid barker of trains. End up chatting to a Swedish guy and fail to get the kettle boiling so forsake a cuppa.

The roads here are quite appalling – potholed, patched and of general poor condition, the whole motorhome rattled and shook. We stopped at Coulags, basically a lay-by in the middle of nowhere, as there was a footpath leading to Torridon some 9 miles away. We needed to stretch our legs (not all the way to Torridon) and wandered along the gravel path, next to a bubbling stream. We had put on light coats, but we’re soon shedding them and the jumpers as the temperature here was very warm. We spend time here with our cameras, chatting to fellow walkers and admiring the scenery. A pleasant diversion.

We jumped back into our little home on wheels and continued west. Hubby knows this area well and we drive down single track roads with passing places (these are main roads in this part of Scotland) to a scenic harbour village called Plockton. It’s quite delightful and we wander along the harbour front seeking a cafe. We find food and a great spot overlooking the Loch. It couldn’t be more perfect.

It’s time to look for a campsite for our overnight stay and retrace our steps back to Lochcarron and the one and only campsite for miles around. Sadly, they are full, though they did offer to squeeze us in, but it was a bit too cosy for our liking. We headed off to Applecross on the west coast itself, but with small, badly maintained roads it is slow going and distances on a map are much longer in real time. We also failed to realise is to get to Applecross, you have to travel over a mountain pass. Eleven miles of wild barren mountain road, with added extras: narrow strip of tarmac with passing places, hairpin bends and sheer drops on one side and drainage ditches on the other. We hoped to not meet other road users, but of course there were cars, vans and a couple of large minibuses where we had a knack of meeting at inappropriate points. It was a bit daunting to say the least and we were glad to make the summit unscathed, though then we had the downhill to contend with. But what stunning views to be had when we were brave enough to look and it was truly beautiful in the late afternoon sun.

We arrived at Applecross, a tiny village of houses overlooking the Loch and towards the Isle of Skye. I think the campsite was bigger. In celebration of surviving the tortuous journey over, we sat outside our dinky home and sipped wine taking in the glorious view. Then we wandered down to the front, finding a cafe that wouldn’t look out of place in the middle of a big city! It’s quite delightful and there’s quite a few people doing the same. The Dog is delighted to find water and have a wade.

We sauntered back to the campsite and suddenly our off lead dog takes off. Squirrels? A cat? To our horror, there are deer grazing in the trees and our dog needs to round them up. We yell to her, the deer lift their heads up to look at the kerfuffle and start to trot away before realising that they’re quite safe and resume their munching. This baffles The Dog who has slithered to a halt unsure what to do next and looks at us for advice. This isn’t in the manual – they’re suppose to run so I can chase them. Common sense takes over and she casually saunters back where she’s put on the lead. Never expected that one so close to civilisation. They’re obviously very used to humans and their four legged friends.

We decided to call it a night, but leave our curtains open. With ample space from other campers, it’s a pleasant, relaxed and attractive little site. And with the sun setting behind distance mountains, we watched her journey as we fall gently into slumber.

Tomorrow, we’re on the road again, continuing our journey north and hoping to make it to Ullapool before nightfall.

Scottish 500

Sorry to seemingly disappeared and not posted for awhile, but I’ve been on adventures further afield. For the past 10 days I’ve been touring the northern Scotland coastline in a motorhome on the North Coast 500 – a 516 mile scenic route starting and ending at Inverness. The NC500 was launched in 2015.

https://www.visitscotland.com/see-do/tours/driving-road-trips/north-coast-500/

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/North_Coast_500

We picked up our dinky little motorhome from Skipton in Yorkshire, mid morning and despite a brief scare, when the motorhome owner failed to meet us at the appointed time (luckily he appeared, looking slightly stressed some 30 minutes later, full of apologies and we sighed a huge sigh of relief) we headed north onto the M6 motorway to Inverness, some 344 miles or nearly 6 hours away. We gritted our teeth and put our foot down, well as much as the motorhome would let us.

We didn’t get very far. At Shap, a long straggly village just off the M6 in Cumbria, is a fantastic little cafe called Abbey Coffee Shop on the main road through, that does a stonking full English breakfast. As it was lunchtime, we settled for a chicken and mushroom pie with mushy peas and gravy, a slice of flapjack for pudding and a steaming mug of coffee. Just what we needed and would sustain us for the next few hours of endless and monotonous motorway driving ahead of us. We just can’t pass Shap without calling in and it’s so much better than the overpriced and overcrowded motorway services.

We continued up, crossing the Scottish border at Gretna Green and the motorway changing its name from the M6 to M74. I like this route. The rolling countryside gives way to wild moorland and high fells as the motorway snakes it’s way through the valley. It’s a classic geography lesson with railway line, river and power lines chasing each other through the wild landscape, mankind’s mucky handprint firmly felt. Huge wind turbines gather on top of the fells, turning lazily, standing above acres and acres of managed pine woodlands that cling to the sides. Little farms and scattered houses look isolated and bleak, despite the thundering motorway. It’s a fascinating landscape that never fails to get me thinking.

We started to enter Glasgow’s outer suburbs and changed motorways, veering eastwards and northwards, passing Stirling, Perth and Aviemore on the A9 trunk road. The landscape has changed again, more rolling hills and arable farmland, then bleak, wide moorland around Aviemore and finally dropping to the outskirts of Inverness and the campsite for the night. We had done it, with brief stops for fuel and letting The Dog have a wee and a stretch of legs. The Ardtower campsite overlooks the Moray Firth and we enjoyed splendid views.

We had a quick tea, and decide to walk out towards the Culloden Battlefield, along the main road and through a small woodland. Culloden was a battle between the Jacobites and the Government in 1745 resulting in high casualties to the Jacobites. The site was closed, but we were able to access the battlefield, with red and blue flags highlighting the respective front lines, a small towers commemorating the battle and stumpy gravestones engraved with the names of the clansmen. It was fascinating to wander around and we would of stayed longer, but the light was fading and we needed to negotiate the country lane again. Anyway, bedtime was calling too.

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

We made up our bed by converting the seating area into a double bed, ushered the dog under the dashboard (not impressed). You have to be incredibly organised and tidy in a motorhome (as we learnt from last year’s expedition to Devon and Cornwall) and once we had nested, we crashed as soon as our heads hit the pillows. A good start to the holiday.

Tomorrow, our first miles of the Scottish 500 proper, heading west from Inverness towards Applecross on the west coast.