It seems that Scotland captured our hearts and imagination, so much so we found it difficult to leave. The planned two weeks have stretched into seven, and now its time to move on but let me tell you about the last few places we enjoyed before returning to English soil.
Continuing down the West coast we arrived at Ayr, the weather was so hot we couldn’t resist having a day at the beach like everyone else. A very long, lovely sandy wide beach with miles of shallow water ideal for little ones. Not great for parking motor homes strangely. For us it was a day off from everything, we sunbathed, ate ice creams and read books as if we were on holiday!
Over the past couple of weeks, there have been less arty places, less impromptu parking places and the site we stayed at in Ayr was business-like. We were missing the Highlands.
Next stop Girvan, a great wild parking spot on the seafront overlooking a huge mound in the sea called Ailsa Craig (meaning Fairy Rock). It’s also known as Paddy’s milestone as it’s just a hop over from Belfast Ireland, to Glasgow Scotland.
Ailsa Craig (land for sale…)
It is owned by the Scottish peer Archibald Angus Charles Kennedy the 8th Marquis of Ailsa and is thought by geologists to be a “plug” left behind from an extinct volcano. Made up of blue hone granite it has been quarried to make curling stones. Skipper Roddy Leitch talks of a rich history of Sea monsters; smugglers; prisoners; dragons; cannibals; folklore and legend. It even has the remains of a castle built 1400’s and an abandoned lighthouse. More recently believed to be where Winston Churchill plotted the D day landings. It is now home to seals and thousands of birds providing a sanctuary for Gannets and Puffins. Did you know, Gannets are the largest sea bird, their wingspan can reach 6.6ft!
One of the great things about the Beast is her lovely panoramic windows. Literally facing out to sea, I loved watching the weather surround this current bun shaped land, morning noon and night, each one a snap shot, I found it mesmerising. Its up for sale too, but a little too much for our pocket, Donald Trump was said to be interested, apparently the locals had an idea to club together to prevent his ownership.
Mull of Galloway (Maol nan Gall)
Mull of Galloway is Scotland’s most southerly point and an unspoilt paradise, so we took a peek. It was a drive that saw the Rhododendrons light up our journey with spectacular colours. We booked into the campsite on the beach at Drummore, we had planned to relax but a chance remark to an Artist I follow online found me secured onto a painting course at midnight for the next morning!
Before we venture into a world of Julie Dumbarton’s “colourhugs”. I thought you might be interested in a little of the beloved poet, Robert Burns history. He came from these parts and is held in high esteem by the Scots. He wrote from the heart, for example, ploughing a field he destroyed a mouse nest that it needed to survive the winter, hence his poem” To a Mouse.” No doubt we have all heard of or taken part in the celebrations held worldwide on or around his birthday 25th January, Burns night? If you are thinking no, I still don’t know him, I can safely assume you have sung Auld Lang Syne at some point? That was his. He had a little success with his writing whilst alive but apparently never received the acclaim he should have. He died 1796 aged just thirty-seven, (the day his son Max was born) legend says he was born in a blizzard and wrote about how the brevity of life was there in a snowflake:
“Or the like snow falls in the river
A moment white then melts forever”
For all his love of life and gregarious nature, he was, it appears as fragile in health as a snowflake.
His wife welcomed visitors to their home which she kept as a memorial to him. The likes of Poets Samuel Taylor Coleridge and William Wordsworth visited and later John Keats 1818 and writer Nathaniel Hawthorne in 1850’s. Burns Cottage is kept as a museum now by the National Trust for Scotland, he is said to be one of the world’s best-loved poets, his words were touching and uplifting and are thought to have made the world a better place.
Julie Dumbarton fine art painter
We haven’t got up at six a.m. for some time but we rose and drove the three hours to get to Langholm in Dumfries and Galloway. It was a last-minute cancellation on a weekend course painting A Forest Pathway, Julie Dumbarton style. A quest of mine is to paint more freely and if you check out www.Juliedumbarton.co.uk you will see what I mean in her work.
Her bio reads, “artist for 20 years, lover of colour; owns a church, loves hugs” Her excited smiley hug as soon as you enter through the big old church doors she owns and uses as her studio, feels genuine and warm-hearted. Followed by tea and biscuits, surrounded by both tiny and huge canvasses bursting with colour, I was in my element, what’s not to like?
A group of sixteen, all ladies, the youngest probably mid-thirties, oldest in her seventies maybe. They came from all over the country and world, the furthest being Texas. As the weekend unfolded so did personal life stories, none more enthralling and emotional than Julies. I don’t think it’s a prerequisite to have trauma or heartache to reach into our imaginative souls but I’m sure our life events shape us and if we allow, can fine-tune us into the best and happiest person we can be, which often involves creativity of some kind.
Craig roped in to help demonstrate.
What was Paul up to whilst I was getting paint on my clothes? Paul and one or two other partners, explored mankind’s nature, in the pub for the most part! We then all continued the celebrations into the evening by all eating/drinking together until late, ready for the smiley hug from Julie, and tea and biscuits waiting for us in the morning. The next day was a repeat, when some of us inadvertently found each other in the pub at the end of the course and so the evening of swapping our different countries stories continued with friendships forged and connections confirmed on Facebook of course. Don’t you just love it when you take a chance and go with the flow of what life presents to you.
Sixteen paintings all of the same image taught at the same time but all different; individual and unique. That’s one of the things I love about art, allowing yourself the freedom, you can only be you. So, thank you to Julie for the tuition which I’m sure will inform my personal style. Thanks to Craig for the endless tea and lovely lunch and the colourful mix of ladies who made my weekend so special. Not forgetting Paul whose encouragement to fulfil my dreams is something money can’t buy.
By the way, we stayed at a basic site next to the rugby club Langholm, £13. Per night and the best water pressure in the showers we have come across, great result.
Kirkcudbright (pronounced Kir-coo-bree)
In our three-hour dash to Julies lovely old art studio church and my weekend of enlightenment, we passed a town many had recommended to us. Kirkcudbright, known as the Artist Town. So, we doubled back for a couple of days and found it to be a place where beauty creativity and community spirit reigns. We learnt that everyone in the town raised money and donated £2 each because they decided the town needed a swimming pool, now the council have joined in and help support it. Despite the town brimming with Artists of all genres, the community thought they should have a proper art gallery and with the same determination now have that too. The money we paid for the site we stayed in on the top of a hill overlooking the town, all went to local sports for the town’s children. Many of the shops are family run or collaborations and one pub, in particular, The Selkirk Arms, has played a key role in the town’s history dating back to 1777 and still does to this day. Poet Robert Burns was said to have lodged there on several occasions and it is said he even penned the Selkirk Grace there. A busy events calendar keeps the town alive and interesting whatever season you choose to visit. Doesn’t this sound like the best version a town could be?
Julie recommended we stop at Kippford beach and wow how uniquely beautiful it was to see a thick carpet of cockle shells adorn the sand there.
The walk along the beach of shells is flanked by beautiful small and large cottages and holiday lets, colourfully set into the rocks and surrounded by flowers. Looking up at huge windows framing a circular lounge on top of the rocks we saw that ten people could let that property…hmmm an easy choice for us, who else is coming?
The Royal Yacht Britannia
We had regretted not visiting The Royal Yacht Britannia on our brief visit to Edinburgh so hot-footed it back for a quick overnight stay, wild parking along the beautiful beach there so we could visit at leisure the next day.
1997 saw the end of a tradition, the last of 83 Royal yachts that dated back to 1660. I was surprised by the homely feel, no luxury, very little pomp and ceremony visible in the furnishings and designs which the Queen and Price Phillip played a huge part of. The queen is extremely thrifty it appears, there are many examples, like not wanting to waste Queen Victoria’s ships bedding she had it fitted to size for her bedroom and the ships Wheel/helm came from an older Royal ship.
Perhaps this is why it is said she always felt so at home and relaxed when on board. Although her day still comprised of a full work schedule, she still found time to socialize and joke with those looking after her. With a band on board, there was often merriment, fun and games. Naturally, there are the other interesting facts like the Admiral would sometimes have to change twelve times a day, his outfit dependant on where they were, what time of day and who’s company he was in! Britannia was originally built to also work as a hospital ship so had a large working laundry area, which was lucky with all of those costume changes! One last interesting fact: Britannia has three masts, beneath the base of each one are hidden coins. They were placed there as payment to the angels to guard the souls of the sailors.
Countries Flags at the ready
Prince Phillip’s Easel and carefully concealed bar behind a painting!
Scotland’s Coal Mining Museum
We drove back via the scenic route of the A7 stopping off to visit Scotland’s Coal Mining Museum
We stayed in its car park overnight so we had a whole day there as the tour and displays take up quite some time. We had a personal tour by a retired miner Jim, which was so interesting as was the history of mining when children as young as 5 or 6 were given the boring job of sitting in the dark dirty mine with nothing to do other than opening and closing a door when needed. By the way, because of the way the distribution of air and gasses work if they didn’t close the door, they could kill everyone down there!
We, of course, tried the local (only) pub, The Dean, that has always played a huge role in the town and is now a community run pub. The miners used to collect their wages from the pub and the wives would also be in a line waiting for the housekeeping, not silly, are we!
Leaving Scotland, we headed into Cumbria from which we have fond very old memories of holidays with friends when the children were small. The Beatrix Potter museum and rolling hills where we experienced all weathers in one day. Nothing has changed, still great for kids and adults wherever you explore. We found ourselves parked wild the first night and searching for a site as we knew we were almost at the Beast limits, but literally all of them we booked. Travelling means we lose track of the calendar and of course being half term, we should have pre-booked somewhere. We visited Cockermouth town first then found a pub that allows motor homes to overnight park, even though there was no hook up etc, finding a place to wild camp is harder here so we got to know Terry and Nicola the helpful owners of The Posting House (can recommend mushroom stroganoff) stayed a couple of nights and swapped tales with a couple from the Netherlands as they were doing our trip the other way around!
Cockermouth is Poet William Wordsworth’s birth town.
You find yourself avoiding saying Cockermouth! But it simply derives from the river Derwent and mouth of the river Cocker meeting. Consequently, Mills grew and so did a town, Cockermouth!
A pretty area where medieval and Georgian streets nestle underneath the castle (privately owned and lived in) lots of independent shops and art galleries. We recommend Shills for lunch and a visit to William Wordsworth house. The bold terracotta coloured house and fine gardens stand proud on the main street just down the road from where the hangings took place in Williams day! The interesting visit included talks and a working Edwardian kitchen and recipes created by staff in typical Edwardian garb using utensils and methods of the day!. Looked after by the National Trust we very much enjoyed a walk-through history there.
I was both heartened and dismayed to read about William Wordsworth life. The joy I felt when I read that in an era of strict codes of conduct, William’s father and mother afforded their children the freedom that belonged not to the 1770’s but in the 1960’s. At a time when children were seen and not heard, beaten regularly, put to work as infants and even hung in the centre of town for the smallest misdemeanours. Williams mother and father encouraged their five children’s exploration of nature and the world about them with unprecedented freedom. Playing in their garden or out amongst the rivers and forests of the Lake District, William and his sister Dorothy were able to flex their creative muscle and both started writing. Dora became an author, poet and diarist whilst William’s love was also poetry, he became a key figure of Romanticism and the author of the most famous poem ever written about daffodils. (entitled Daffodils by William Wordsworth if you do google it. It’s simple and uplifting)
William and his friend Samuel Taylor Coleridge invented a new style of poetry, in which nature and the diction of the common man surpassed their formal language of the day.
I found Wordsworth’s sentiments akin with mine and his fears then, unfortunately still so relevant today. Inspired by Wordsworth, I dared to write a poem:
With William in Mind.
Poetry is not hard to find, its right here now, as I look through the blinds. Its where the land meets the sky, especially if we view with our heart and eyes.
We will see what thousands have before, the wonder of nature right at our door.
If we stop for a while longer, eyes closed and listen,
We hear the song of the seasons; it steals into your heart and makes your eyes glisten.
In Edwardian times, the brutish realities of life, where each day was all but, toil and strive.
William Wordsworth in despair was said to have sat in a boat on a fine lake and recalled natures spirit finding him there.
As it got dark, in the quiet,
where he could hear as he did in the womb.
Mother nature spirits spoke to him there, and boom,
he recognised her anger, looked at the damage of mankind.
He felt there will be a penance for us being so blind.
Poetry connects to our inner voice, to give us the council to give us choice,
to give us the courage to truly be, to right the wrongs, to change history.
Ordinary, with will and passion.
Typical, with eyes that see.
Customary, with ears that listen.
Regular, like you and me.
Our voices can sing, shout or debate, to weave back into natures poetry, it’s not too late.
For hope is eternal, without it we would die,
but perish we must if we don’t have nature by our side.
Does it get annoying with each other 24/7? Many people have asked if we have killed each other yet! Going into week eight I can say no, we are both still alive and kicking. We have had the odd quiet moment, where one of us is probably counting to ten, (or plotting the murder!) but we have been together nearly 30 years, we have worked together many times, so we can’t really surprise each other in terms of being annoying. Some habits are highlighted but that works both ways for each of us. So, as well as the irritations highlighted, being together like this makes us appreciate what we love even more. Lastly, we are constantly reminding each other of how lucky we are in so many ways, so no time to grumble.
Food: I thought our diet would improve, instead we find ourselves eating more bread than ever, toast or a sandwich seems to be our easy default. As we have been avoiding the larger towns/stores we are reduced to a limited array of foods in the smaller shops, hence an easy sandwich! Eating out is sociable, interesting and convenient, we feel and act like we are on holiday, it’s happening too often, so we have decided to get a handle on our diet and finances.
Vegetarian sausage and haggis at the miners museum. The Haggis was very tasty.
As I do the cooking Paul has helped by eating my vegetarian meals so I am not cooking two meals every time. In fact, he is even eating more fish variety. This has unfortunately come at a time when I am learning more about veganism. The change for me, won’t be immediate, old habits are ingrained but I am making more considered choices where possible now. I do need to find a good replacement milk for my Yorkshire tea?
Exercise: Van life means some days we only do 1000 steps and others 24,000, today so far 1800. We walk and ride as much for the enjoyment but also the stretch and the cardiovascular exercise. In the van you do a lot of sitting or manoeuvring as opposed to walking freely. One thing we miss is our mattress, so the odd back ache is another incentive for a good walk.
What else do we miss? I’m posting this on the day of my daughters baby shower. We have missed a friends wedding reception and other events we would have loved to attend. Missing out isn’t everything, those people are still special to us their place in our hearts are fixed and when we see them we can hopefully bring more of us to the party than we could have done before. So apart from our family and friends, Paul misses the open space our home and garden affords us and his weekly spiritual church meetings. He would also love his Lambretta to accompany us. Perhaps what I miss is time alone, large canvases and an injection of female camaraderie. At home Paul will go to work and on the days when i am not looking after our Grandson, I will go into the studio or office. Some would argue that Art is a lonely business because the process is a solitary one but. I write my morning papers, a kind of thought diary which helps me to focus on priorities; I deal with emails and the business side of Art and home affairs. Then sketch, research and develop ideas or techniques and prep and paint canvases. However, my routine is out of sync and so I have done very little of this along with personal time to meditate and believe it or not create art. Isn’t it ironic that these were originally key drivers for me and this trip along with engaging others! This is as a result of being on a road trip but it’s not a negative, our experiences are priceless.
Today we are staying put and I will do all of the above…Walking will of course feature too!
Inside the Beast: Our motorhome is old, depicted in the hardly used but outdated interior which irritates Paul no end. I on the other hand, I can live with that because the Beast delivers on so many levels other than aesthetics. The Vans quality, is regularly endorsed when talking to other Motorhomers about the pros and cons of their mobile home. We have however found we have developed what I call MHT, Motorhome Tourette’s, the outspoken check list that makes our mouth work involuntarily ten minutes after we have set off. You settle into the drive only to then shout FRIDGE or AERIAL!
Persevere with me whilst I explain. When we wild park the fridge gets switched onto our Gas supply. Before we start the engine, it must be in the off position otherwise it does something terrible to our engine battery. When driving it should be on DC mode; when parked up in a camp site, hooked up to electricity, it should be on AC mode! Of course, we have stupidly put it on gas when we have been hooked up to electric! Also left it draining the engine battery after being out all day!
Do any of you remember having to stand by the T.V moving the indoor aerial around? Well in the van it’s similar, from inside we raise the aerial on the roof and twizzle it to get whatever channels we can find. Can you imagine whizzing through the trees with the aerial up!
Every time we set off, we have to make sure the cupboards and draws are secured and anything we have out is tucked away. It’s not unheard of the have Spooky draws and flying objects though! The most alarming one was the fridge door and its contents but I was a good defender in Netball!
Things don’t always go according to plan. At this moment in time we are in a pub car park in the countryside. They allow us to park free assuming we will drink /eat in there (another meal out!) of course we do, intending to travel the next day, but it’s the next day now and the weather is doing its worst so we are staying put. The slight problem is that our living area battery beeps if we put anything on, Lights, heating T.V. That means its running low and needs charging: to be hooked up to electric, however every site in the Lake District for the next few days is full. We cannot let the battery level drop below a certain number shown on our circuit board or it ruins the battery so the pressure is on. Added to that we have just run out of water, both fresh and in the tank and the toilet container is full! By the way the pub is closed and now my laptop battery is in power saving mode! So its bye for now until we get electric.
We stayed at the Glen Nevis Camping and Caravan Site for four nights (pay for three and get one free) It’s the most well organised site we have been to and caters for small tents, new style wooden pods as well as MH and Caravans. There is plenty to do in and around the area, dominated by the stunning backdrop of the mountain range. With their own local Pub and restaurant, we would endorse this site.
In Fort William we liked the sound of walking the Great Glen way that leads you to Neptune’s Staircase, a unique damn system, plus a coffee shop.
Tourist info said it would take half an hour, two hours later we were grateful of the coffee but didn’t like the walk, as the path took us through housing estates, not the beauty we had been used to. However, the train back ran the next day and the busses were a mystery on Bank Holiday Monday so we walked back! Whilst we wouldn’t sanction this walk, we would recommend the Cow Hill Walk from the Glen Nevis Braveheart woodland car park (Created for the film vehicles) It said it would take nearly three hours and it did. At times, I really did feel like we were climbing a mountain. The forest is so diverse, it begs you to take up botany as it shows off it’s often unique plant life only found in the highlands, as well as the beetles butterflies and birds who enjoy it too. The shy sun is appearing more often now and gently coaxing the biota to unveil their stunning summer colours, it’s been lovely to witness the changes since we left in April. A well-travelled Danish couple commented on the vibrancy of colours they have not seen before.
Our last day in Fort William and we managed to get tickets on the Jacobite Steam Train used in the Harry Potter films. The chugging noise of the steam engine made us think of Dumbo, along with the Whoo whoo from the coal dust smeared train drivers pull on the cord. We went over the viaduct made famous in the film and visited Museums and the village of Mollaig on the way. It was a lovely ride, said to be the best steam train ride in the world.
We left Fort William looking to wild park in or around Glencoe, famous for the Battle and its beauty. As we didn’t come across anywhere, we took a left following the coastal route, normally luckier there, the drive was beautiful but took us twenty minutes away from Glencoe to a little place called Kinlochleven. It wasn’t the plan but we found a parking area next to the river, set aside for MH’s with the added bonus of toilets too, so went with it. (the thing about wild parking is that every time we use the loo we are essentially filling a container up, so to be able to use an outside toilet means we are winning!)
What a great find Kinlochleven was, directly opposite an Ice/ rock climbing centre with lots more to do inside. A friendly pub, chippy, hotel and the walk we did the next day was definitely a mountain climb, it included a waterfall and was really breath-taking, so much so we just sat at the top for ages in admiration, talking about how lucky we are.
We drove back into Glencoe but still was unlucky with parking so we just gave the town a miss! Next stop Loch Lomond and wow…
With lots of layby’s designed off road for overnight stops the beauty of the Long Loch can be enjoyed everywhere. It’s the largest body of freshwater in Mainland Britain. The scene was helped by the bright sunny day, so we made a picnic and joined everyone else on a grassed area by the Loch and stayed overnight. We couldn’t remember the last time Paul and I made a picnic with a blanket on the ground and seeing shapes in the clouds, probably before children! It was bliss I’d recommend it. It was also perfect weather the next day for an 18-mile round trip bike ride, from the pretty village of Luss
to Loch Lomond Trossachs National Park. We ate lunch on a Paddle Steamer being renovated, this was great as it was the last one designed and built in 1953 called Maid of the Loch and will be back in business in a couple of years.
We reluctantly left the area; the Beast’s engine was the only noise as we travelled further away from the Highlands we had come to love. We felt a quiet sadness descend and settle in as the roads got busier, the area built up, less scenic and no stopping points. We decided to follow the coast again and sidestep Glasgow. Unable to find anywhere I discovered a visitor centre in Greenock with good reviews about the things to do there. We followed the satnav down a one-track road that tested our nerves as it became more dirt track than road, with little to no passing places. The never-ending winding built the anxiety of the question, what would happen if a car came the other way, there really was nowhere to go!
We finally pulled into the empty car park of the Visitors Centre
which now being 6ish was all boarded up for the night. Note I said boarded up not closed for the evening. It was in the middle of the country with a rundown farm building as its neighbour. We questioned staying there but told ourselves we had nice plans for the next day didn’t want to face that road again for a while and couldn’t think where else we would park for the night so we cooked and out came the PJ’s.
A knock at the window surprised us first and resulted in us helping two lost eleven-year-old boys find their way home. After settling down again we were alone totally in the dark apart from the glow of our little T.V and the stars, until a boy racer BMW came spinning into the car park filled with youngsters parking beside us, strange as it was a big space? Once they left, we relaxed again and went to bed at midnight. Just before we got comfortable three fast cars came into our lonely car park and circle around us. We slowly undid the shutters to see what was occurring. It wasn’t young lovers finding a quiet place. It was fast cars headlights and young men. As fast as they arrived one left and went to the derelict farm, another went the other way and the other stayed? Paul had stopped trying to encourage me to ignore them and like me, was just watching… They went but I couldn’t go to bed and rightly so as two returned, on that note Paul got out of the van turned off the Gas and I was like Sulu from the Star ship enterprise, flicking buttons off, and locking down the inside. Now to pass the sinister waiting headlights and navigate the dirt track of a road with just our headlights warning us of the holes and bumps that made the Beast bounce and heave her framework clumsily, whilst not knowing where we were headed?
In the dark for some time we were in the countryside on our own, bullied only by the trees and bushes knocking on the Beasts sides as we lumbered up and down the landscape. Then we saw headlights parked to our right just off the road ahead, as we passed the white strips of the stationary Mini, we check our mirrors and noted they were behind us! Without realising we were heading down hills in this foreign terrain faster and faster bouncing higher in our pilot seats whilst still trying to keep our cool. We pulled over sharply when possible and the Mini sped on, now we were following, and the track thankfully became a road which eventually led us to a beach promenade at Largs, where we parked up with one or two MH’s and
… slept soundly!
Music of the Mountains…
We are heading into our fourth week of travel and it really does feel like a road trip with more time on the road than painting, walking cycling or anything else. It’s a tricky balance to strike, where to stop and for how long. Paul and I luckily love a road trip, some of the mountain ranges reminded us of driving to Vegas, it was only for a moment, Scotland is far prettier, but they were also fun memories made.
I’m writing this blog drinking a yogi tea from the shop at Gairloch; Buddha by the Sea (Womans Balance, thumbs up) Looking out over rugged hills that are cloaked in a raincoat of clouds filling up the Loch below and I’m deciding what recipe to go for out of Buddha bowls, grain+ green +protein book, a new addition, along with Tree spotters Guide, get me! I call it relaxed learning, it happens when life is simplified; we can focus on simple but essential pleasures to “feed the well,” as artist say. Nourishing the soul with life’s bounty in all ways.
Regretfully we left Gairloch, we continued West and we can confirm the scenery continues to excite the senses. So many photographs on my phone are now framed by the Beasts interior as I shoot whilst travelling. Its addictive; the light changes and so does the picture in front of you. You spot sheep standing perpendicular to the mountain and wonder how they do it, take a shot, add to the picture lambs frolicking, cows and their calf’s feeding, a few more shots.
The Landscape too has filled my phone with its lively charm. In the Beast out in the open, the shhh of the North Sea, the trickle of the waterfalls or the stillness of the lochs lull you to sleep, only to be woken by the array of bird song championing a new day, and this makes me feel very grateful, not only for our new day but the extra storage space on my phone!
Whilst driving in the never-ending indulgence of the landscape, we can almost feel the rocks waiting to rain down their giant jagged boulders in front of us, just waiting to reclaim the road channelled through them, or we look over to the eerie but beautiful lochs, silently weaving into the hillside showing us the way. Let’s not underestimate the sky that also commands our attention; with the changeable weather, the clouds make designs on the sky that so many artists endeavour to emulate with their individual styles that I don’t tire of seeing. A dance of mist across the mountains and you can almost hear the Gaelic laments of times gone by and lost loves. Suddenly a crash of grey cloud storms across the brightest of blue skies creating atmosphere and mood. Interlaced with the clouds are the stars of the show, an aerial display of birds of prey hovering or steeling food from another bird mid-flight. It’s a movie we watch most often in silence, interrupted only by our eagerness to engage in the wonder.
We drive for the most part without music, the silence is self-imposed, we don’t put the radio on because the Beast sounds like a bus inside and the view really is best enjoyed without extra barracking. Having said that, music is a natural desire, that one evening did have me looking for the CD’s we had brought with us, except we forgot them and found just one; NOW that’s what I call a party 2018. How that found its way in here I don’t know but it’s always fun reviving old tunes with a chance for a boogie! … “Came here for love”…The Greatest Showman pretended to accompany us but the case was empty, which is a crime, as we would have played that on repeat for six months!
Inspiring music poetry dance and creativity of all genres, you can see how the people and landscape enjoy and respect each other, we spoke to some fishermen recently looking experienced and weathered, I’m sure you can picture them, who said they never take their scenery for granted, they know how lucky they are. I went to find some enchanting music yesterday and found humour in the likes of The Red Hot Chilli Pipers! We ended up playing Michael Flatley’s Celtic Dream music on repeat through Paul’s phone! More Oil we discovered helped quiet the engine so I look forward to checking out the charity shops and finding more CD’s!
There is artistry in food here too, we had a lovely lunch in Sheildag, (creamy fish chowder) hidden in a charming village that sweeps around the bay of the Loch, listening to Eva Cassidy in the background slowing the pace down.
The drinking laws are much tighter here than in England which means Paul can’t enjoy a pint of Guinness as he was, but it doesn’t stop him later in the day. A Dutch family had overloaded on Guinness and were going home so asked Paul to take them off their hands, which he kindly obliged.
Another great find was The Old Inn at Carbost on the Isle of Skye, I’m jumping forward here but this find was so unexpected. We stopped at a CL site. (Certified Location Sites just have the basics, electric hook up and water, no frills and this place didn’t even look nice in this setting!) The chap said there was a shop and pub about a mile walk away so we braved the hail storm and went for supplies. They were of course mega expensive because this is the only shop stuck in the middle of nowhere, but whilst there, we confirmed that the Pub was just a little further on and the shopkeeper told us we wouldn’t want to leave, “it’s the best pub on Skye” Yeah right, we thought there are no signs, no anything to suggest anything happens here. We walked into a warm-hearted, busy, internationally filled pub where people of all denominations just kept coming. To top the atmosphere, the food was delicious and service friendly. So many gems tucked away.
Before heading to Skye we wild park on Loch Marie, said to be the prettiest Loch in Scotland where we skimmed stones and walked around Beinn Eighe looking for eagles.
Skye initially was like the East side of Scotland, brown hills and moorland as we headed up to Portree the main town, but as we followed the Art trail around the coast the hills and mountains seem to double and treble in number and size and became more scenic. We wild parked at Staffin Beach, checking the tide wouldn’t reach us
and the next night Carbost CL site, mentioned earlier. We met friends in Portree on our last day, and after relaxing in the Beast together, convinced them to buy a motorhome! We missed out on the bottom part of Skye and Fairy Pools, said to be magical, but we wanted to get a move on, back to the mainland and out of the wind. Ironically, we found ourselves up a mountain on the Ben Nevis range, where it was windy and snowing!
There is so much to do at the Ben Nevis Range, we thought it a great location for an active family holiday. Fort William is on the doorstep and the largest town we have seen for ages, so lots of boxes ticked.
Our zest for painting, people and a party has us staying at The Ben Nevis motorhome camp site for a few days, where we have made new friends and planned a night with music in the local pub! (More photos on fb art page)
The highs and lows of the of The Beast on the Highlands.
Can you believe we have been on the road for just over two weeks without eating chocolate? Not even an Easter egg and with all this walking and cycling, roll on summer body!
Talking of well-being, I learnt that Edinburgh city is 45% green space which makes for healthy and happy people, it does also have the benefit of access to a great beach that goes on for miles. Inverness is no different, the wildlife and scenic views are all around, rivers canals and lochs wherever you walk makes every excursion a pleasure. We wild parked for a couple of nights in Inverness which is allowed in Scotland. In fact, Scotland’s roads are well organised with clearly marked stopping spaces and bins and every view is a good one.
The bike ride from Inverness to Loch Ness is a lovely one, most of it off road and catered for bikes. It takes about an hour and is not too hilly (helps if you have an electric bike too!) There are two routes there, we went to Dores where the pub sits right on the edge of the Loch nestling in its glory, and treated ourselves to lunch as it was Easter Sunday. I had Shetland muscles in cider but they were too small for my liking, Paul’s roast was good though and it’s an easy place to stop for a good while whether to play, swim, skim stones or do the many walks around the forests there, something for everyone. Nessie Hunter.com is also resident which makes the trip more interesting as he has been looking for Nessie for over 25 years so has many stories to tell if you catch up with him. In case you were wondering we didn’t see Nessie either!
It seems we along with the rest of the country enjoyed beautiful sunshine over the Easter period and that helped us to slow our pace down. We research how to go about the North Coast 500 route and decided to do it backwards. We met two chaps older than us, setting off to ride the NC500 on their pushbikes, we thought we were good, riding a few hours that day, we didn’t mention that! Good luck to them.
About the NC500
The route is like a pick and mix, you read about the next stop and decide if that’s what you want to see, perhaps something the Vikings left, or a world war two relic, or one of nature’s highlights. There is something for everyone and without the book you would drive through what looks like a few houses and a post office and not realise it has hidden gems. However, although six months sounds like a long time, we have to be selective and so enjoyed just driving for a couple of days on what is a great road, never thought I’d be saying that, but with the big Beast on a single carriage way you appreciate Scotland’s Passing places frequently interjected along the route. As well as the scenic Stopping places off set from the road, it’s easy to wild camp here. The NC500 stops are often only a fifteen-minute to half an hour drive apart, so you could park and make it your base camp then cycle or walk to nearby points of interest.
NC 500 Anti clockwise.
We left Inverness and stopped at Evanton and the Black Rock Gorge. The main village car park will take a motorhome so that’s a bonus. The post office lady suggested we walk through the woods to see the Gorge and we were so pleased we followed this advice. A beautiful wood that is a must to visit with children, dogs, or just you. It is well looked after and catered for by the community, you can tell the children have a ball there with camps, fires and play areas. That aside the wood evokes fairy-tale and fantastical thought. We found ourselves creating stories of fairies, elves and nymphs dancing in and around the gnarled old trees, it was magical. The Gorge is a force of nature dramatic and mesmerising, worth the stop off. By the way we didn’t stick to the path as is suggested, we were distracted by the bird song, fauna and flora, streams and waterfalls, consequently we added about two and a half hours to our walk!
Just a 15 min drive and I’m lured to what is described as the Jewel in the highlands, Dunrobin Castle and Gardens. This one of course, is also not part of English Heritage or the National Trust! It has a lot of personal artefacts on show from the history of the family which I love. Its location on the beach and the gardens are stunning. They have plants that look like something out of a prehistoric era which they explain to the children are dinosaur food. (part of the rhubarb family but you can’t eat them) and regale you with stories of ghosts and legends. I’d like to tell you what they are called but after the chap said it three times, I just nodded and smiled.
Rock Stop part of the Geo Park of the Highlands, was a unexpected surprise, so tucked away, you may even think you are passing someone’s house. Apart from the shop and café there is a room with a large screen playing an interesting introduction to the geology of the rocks and mountains you are driving through, as well as an exhibition of studies, finds and research.
We decided on visiting the isle of Skye to the West, as opposed to The Orkney Islands so cut the tip off of Scotland, missing John o’ Groats. It depends on who you talk to as to whether that was the right choice or not but hey, we can come back.
From Scrabster along to Betty Hill A836 the route just gets prettier and with everyone saying on the West coast every corner is a photo opportunity I can’t wait, but know I will be testing Paul’s driving patience!
Well we are into our third week and I think we mentioned the Gaffa tape didn’t we? So, our wing mirror kissed a passing similar motorhome and knocked itself out…Paul = Gaffa Tape. Then we stopped to repair it properly, when Paul opened the tool box hidden under the van the whole thing just dropped off! Paul …= this is going to take more than Gaffa tape! After putting the contents in the shower, not easy, when we next stopped, we couldn’t understand why the pump was making a funny noise? Yes, the shower had been knocked on for a while! The next stop and we realised we were missing a wheel trim, Paul… = needs cable ties! And lastly back on the road and water started dripping in front of me onto the dashboard, we had only had a little rain so we were concerned but… Paul… = silicone or mastic, by this point Paul was talking and I was just nodding! So, So far so good.
For those interested in camping, we stopped off at a site at Brora which was just a minutes’ walk to a windy beach, a few nights wild, then we stopped at Tongue and then Gairloch, again right on the beach. All site are good but Gairloch really grabbed us so after one wild night! we stayed just outside at Sands Site which is well equipped, spacious and on a great pathway to the town of Gairloch which is spread right around the Loch, so just when you think you have come to the end of the town, a short cycle and there’s more. We stayed for a few days and enjoyed sitting on top of a hill looking for Porpoise and Whales. Finding shops like Budha by the Sea and the Trading Post to hang out in. This and the Cove are popular places for Yoga retreats so had to include some photos for you.
We stayed at Sands for three nights, we would highly recommend it. Paul = maintenance! We shared some drinks with some lovely people, enjoyed a live band in The Old Inn and painted outside with a view you can’t tire of. What the Highlands don’t have in abundance is connection, but everyone is relaxed about not having wifi at home for months, their answer is, they have the view, and you can’t argue with that.