Van-Life

Van-Life

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!

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

Sinister Headlights in Greenock?

Sinister Headlights in Greenock?

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.

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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…

Music of the Mountains…

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 Highlands with the Beast.

The Highs and Lows of the Highlands with the Beast.

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.

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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.

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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!

The Beast

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.

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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.

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