Location: Wallaga Lake, Bermagui, Berry and Sydney NSW
Saturday-Monday: As we moved north with a deadline to get to Sydney, we stopped for what would be our final camping spot of 2019 at the serene Wallaga Lake – well, serene when the water ski boats finally stopped thundering up and down!
A few kilometres outside of the small resort down of Bermagui, Wallaga Lake was a great place for us to just collect ourselves and work out what we would be storing in the van and what we needed to take up to Sydney. A day of cleaning and sorting and we felt a lot more organised. One of the less fun parts of this nomadic life, where we rent a house out and have no base other than two mobile homes in two continents, is working out what we need to take where. Anyway, a quality problem to have, we think.
We would stop one more night at our friends in Berry before storing the caravan in Nowra. Our friends Barb and Omar recently opened their garden for the Berry Gardens Festival, and had around 1700 visitors through! So we were keen to see what had been the drawcards since our last visit in February.
Sadly the drying westerly winds and lack of rain had made it tough to keep some of the highlights alive, but still they have changed a lot of minds about the use of insecticides and the merits of permaculture. Our visits to these guys are always a fascinating insight into this subject I know so little about. I just taste the produce that comes out of their garden and groan in delight, including once again the smoked trout that comes from the swimming pool they convert to a fish farm over the winter. Amazing inspiring people.
Tuesday: Well, we dropped off the caravan and had one very stuffed Landcruiser chugging up to Sydney. We had been invited to house sit a property in the rather exclusive suburb of Mosman on Sydney’s north shore. We have been here now a few days and are settling in. Our fur child is especially pleased to once again have a large house to romp around, and has adopted one of the rooms as her special domain.
We immediately commenced our usual “back in Sydney” program of catch ups with friends, but the joy we would normally experience is missing. It’s so sad to see Sydney bathed in smog from the bushfires that surround this usually beautiful city, the pollution levels ranging from an equivalent of smoking between 10 and 30 cigarettes a day.
It’s hard not to keep thinking about what this means for our future. Add living in the hottest, driest continent to global warming, and we are unlikely to get a happy outcome. I met up with some friends for lunch and the three of us all felt a background level of anxiety that is increasingly affecting the pride and pleasure we have always had to call ourselves Australian. We should be setting an example in this big brown land as to how to tackle these climate change challenges. But we’re not, and that’s depressing.
We see no one competent taking a leadership role in Australia, and we’re not unique in that regard, I do appreciate. The impact on Australia’s wildlife and ecosystems had been already cataclysmic. The pictures emerging of animals burning to death is heartbreaking. People losing everything in bushfires, their homes and livelihoods, where will this end for us? But what as individuals should we be doing to affect change? Is there anyone we trust to think about the country, not their own thirst for power, and just take some brave decisions for the long term?
Location: Yanakie and Tidal River, Wilsons Promontory, Victoria, Australia
Monday: There’s a decent amount of research that points to being near water as having a calming effect on the brain. Blue Mind science they call it. Being in sight of water has certainly brought much joy to Mrs A and I, and these last few days have been a reminder to us of that.
Gazing out over the ever changing seascape that surrounds the ancient granite mass of Wilsons Promontory has been food for our souls. I reckon our fur child is intrigued by the view as well, spending time, like us, looking out across the bay, watching pelicans land like B52s, as seagulls dog fight for fish scraps around them.
We have stayed at this campsite at Yanakie Bay before. It’s just outside the National Park which comprises most of the surrounding coastline, so we can take Tassie, our adventure cat. It has some “premium” sites metres from the beach. Best of all, at this time of year there has only been a couple of vans here in the two days we have soaked up the serenity.
We headed out in the kayak, batting across the mill-pond like surface of the bay (Corner Inlet for those in the know) heading for a sliver of beach in the distance.
We later learned it is in fact a great white shark nursery, and we did in fact spot this little fellow (officially called a shark pup) struggling along.
As we reached the shore, almost immediately a freshening wind blew up, it was a tough paddle back into it, but we hugged the mangrove covered shoreline (the most southerly in Australia) and avoided the worst of the gusts.
Tuesday: The weather has sure kept us reaching for layers, then shedding them as quickly, in turn Victorian fashion. A few days ago it was 40 degrees, now… a wind chill of minus minus 3.5! Crazy…
Today we headed into the national park by car. Wilsons Prom (Australians have an insatiable need to shorten everything), is a popular destination as local readers will know, for bush walkers, boaters and anyone who loves a bit of a wilderness experience. The last time we tried to come here it was closed because of bushfires, but seems to have recovered well.
We did a couple of short walks, spotting a number of kangaroos sheltering from the gale force winds. A wedge tailed eagle (sorry no photo evidence) was even struggling to stay on track with its massive powerful wings. Smaller birds has given up the ghost and were bunkered down.
We called into the visitor‘s centre and had a read up on the Prom. All very well presented, other than a blank space for anything before European settlement! I quizzed the young girl behind the counter, who said they had been struggling to get the two tribes who laid claim to the area to agree, and yet the centre has been there for 30 years! She also confidently told me the area had been inhabited for “hundreds of thousands of years”. Actually it has been inhabited for around 6,000 years and the ‘real’ name of the Prom is Wamoom or Wamoon, a name used nowhere in the centre that I could see. Surely Victorian Parks could do a better job than this of educating visitors on the First Australian history of the park?
We have loved our time here in this beautiful, wild and undeveloped coastline. Tomorrow we will turn back north and retrace our steps up the cost of Australia into NSW, with indelible memories in our heads. This is the best of caravanning. To be able to place yourself in such a fabulous place, the gateway to explore a unique environment, then have everything you need in your cosy little space when you head back indoors, that‘s pretty amazing.
Location: Mount Hotham, Metung, Lakes Entrance, Bairnsdale, Victoria, Australia
Monday: There are only two ways to get from where we had camped in Beechworth and over to the east coast of Victoria, head south west nearly all the way into Melbourne, or head up over the Australian Alps and down into East Gippsland. We chose the latter, and set off with our friends also towing the same caravan as us, and using the same tow vehicle, a 200 Series Toyota LandCruiser, which was the same colour!
Our very well matched, colour co-ordinated mini convoy set off, with me a little nervous about dragging over 3 tons of van over the highest bitumen road in Australia. Our friends who had grown up in the area, were faintly amused at me, and the “nervous Nellie” phrase was bandied around at one stage over the radio link we were were using. Australian humour at its best, it‘s almost British, and our friends Mark and Diane were super helpful with advice on how to drive to get safely over the mountain.
It’s a road to be treated with respect, climbing to a pass at 1862 metres (just over 6,000 feet), even on a day with such perfect road conditions as we had. Blue skies stretched on forever over the forests of eucalyptus trees, which later changed to hardy snow gums as we toiled our way up the mountain.
By global standards these aren’t high mountains, but in the largely flat landscape of Australia, they stand proud. We eventually reached the highest point at the ski resort of Mount Hotham, now, like so many alpine resorts in the summer, focused on offering wild mountain biking trails down the slopes, and a helping hand up in the form of a chair lift.
Our fur child seemed to be as engaged in admiring the unfolding scenery as us!
We started the somewhat gentler drive down the eastern side of the mountains, and thanks to local knowledge from our friends, stopped at a perfect lunch spot for a break and a calming cuppa.
It was a glorious run down into East Gippsland, which covers over 31,000 square kilometres. Belgium for comparison is only 30,000 square kilometres, with a population though of over 11.4 million, compared to East Gippsland’s 80,000. That‘s right, it’s not a busy part of the world. This immediately made itself apparent as we went for mile after mile with hardly another car on the road.
We were nearing our friends house, perched a few hundred metres from the extensive interconnected lake system, which has made this area the haunt of those who love messing about in boats, fishing or bird watching, With over 350 square kilometres of generally calm water protected by one of the longest stretches of sand in the world, Ninety Mile Beach (over 100km). For comparison (yes you’re at the statistical part of this blog) the Gippsland Lakes are over eight times larger than Sydney Harbour. Now thats a lot of quiet boating, and we wasted no time the next morning in getting out amongst it in our sea kayak.
Tuesday: Our first foray on water, thanks to a lively wind forecast, was on the protected waters of one of the three rivers that flows into the lakes, the Tambo River. It just sounds so quintessentially Australian doesn’t it? …And yet I wonder how many fellow Aussies have heard of it? Our friends came with us in their single kayaks, and we set off down river into a fairly stiff head wind. When they had paddled enough and decided to turn around, they kindly offered to drive our car down to another pull out point so we could do a one way trip.
We had done very little paddling, or any other arm or core related exercise over the last few years, so certainly noticed the effort needed to propel even our sleek beast through the water. We spotted a nankeen kestrel cruising the water for lunch, and a kingfisher lurking along the river bank, given away by his azure wings and peach tummy feathers.
After some whining from me about my kayak seat, which seems to have shrunk whilst in storage for 7 months (but I love French croissants), we finally reached the boat launch where we were met by our friends.
A rather gentler afternoon followed, with Miss T loving exploring their house and garden. This is such an idyllic spot, with whip birds calling to one another in the surrounding peppermint gums, and the tiny hornbills that were flitting around their oasis of a courtyard.
I did though get some welcome advice from Mark (yes not only do we have the same caravan and car, but share a name!) Which involved peering under the Zone as stuff that has always mystified me. Mark has a lovely way of simplifying things so even the likes of me can comprehend.
Wednesday: The next day the wind forecast was kinder for more open water kayaking, so we set out across the lake to circle around one of the islands in it. Paddling through this stunning waterscape was made the more poignant by its contrast to the European seascape we had equally admired. There were no soaring castles perched on the edge of the lake, or flotillas of yachts (we saw 4 boats in 4 hours). This was nature unadorned by human. Apparently 1% of the world‘s black swan population call this area home, and they made a majestic vista as we gazed across these pristine waters. A pair of sea eagles then decided to glide over and check us out. This is Australia at its unspoilt best.
We then had a good reminder how forecasts are not always accurate, and gradually the wind built until we were experiencing gusts that made paddling even in our long stable kayak interesting. Our friends in their shorter boats were getting an increasingly wet and bumpy ride.
Luckily the wind built to a crescendo just as we bobbed back into the jetty. A salutary reminder that even sheltered waters need to be treated with respect.
We all felt like we had earned a decent dinner, “tea” as its still called in these parts, and off we went to the nearest big (relatively) town of Bairnsdale. Well what a superb dining experience we were given at The Loft.
Gerry, the chef and owner, and his team of two, provided us with food and wine that was absolutely up there with any big city dining experience. A superb selection of mostly locally sourced produce, with beef, lamb and pork dishes coming cooked to perfection and accompanied by fresh local veggies. My bouillabaisse was a match for any I had in France, with the seafood having travelled a lot fewer kilometres before it hit my plate, and a nice edge of spice that I so missed in much French cuisine. If you’re in the area please support this top quality spot.
Location: Nowra, Braidwood & Woomargama NSW, Rutherglen, Victoria, Australia
Monday: It was time to bid goodbye to Sydney for a few weeks and hit the road. We picked an interesting time to travel with 70kmh winds, dust storms and clouds of flies that reminded us that the great Australian outdoors has many facets, and not all of them make it to the tourist brochures.
We had stored our caravan south of Sydney in Nowra and found it all cleaned and ready to go. A big thanks to Mark Daley of Caravan Cover Up for the great service. He had helped us organise some much needed body and paint work to be carried out on the Landcruiser, and also taken our bikes for service. If you need storage he’s a great option south of Sydney. He even picked us up from the station! So we found everything in working order, batteries charged and fridge on ready for supplies to be loaded.
We headed inland to Braidwood and stayed there for the night at the showground, sheltering from the fierce wind and dust storms. It was cosy though in the van and it was lovely to spend the evening with Tassie all snuggled up with us.
Tuesday: The next day we did a big drive down to just north of Albury on the border with Vicotoria, finding a great spot for the night in a rest area at a small settlement called Woomargama. Clean toilets and a peaceful night, that was all we needed.
Wednesday: We were keen to get back on our bike saddles, so had seen there was a rail trail leading from Rutherglen, which was also the centre of small wine region in northern eastern Victoria. That ticked two boxes for us, so we settled in to a camp site right on the edge of town by lunch time.
We should have been a little more cautious in our optimism given our previous experience with these tourism pages and the reality of what often we found on the ground. We headed to the tourist information centre on our bikes, and joked as we went in that there was no cycle stands which seemed odd in this “cycling Mecca”. We were asked where we had read that it was…we said…on your web site. Looks were exchanged, and one of the ladies said she had hand drawn a map of the where the rail trail was and shared that!
We asked if any of the wineries on the trail (we had read there were “numerous world class wineries” on it) that she could recommend for lunch . She said…well actually none of them are on the trail…and as it was 2pm they would have stopped serving. We started to get an uneasy feeling of déjà-vu. We asked where in town we might eat. The second place she mentioned was a pie shop and the first turned out to be closed. She said, “well we have a great cafe here”. We had seen the sign outside “gourmet lunches served 12-3pm”, so we went though and settled ourselves down at a table. Eventually a young lady came out and when we asked for menus said “Oh we’ve stopped serving food now”…at 2.15pm.
We rode through town, and other than the pub found the pie shop the only place open. One soggy sausage roll and a pie the meat content of which a vegan would be proud of, and we left Rutherglen really disappointed.
We started riding down the rail trail, even that was a bit of let down. A long straight bit of gravel though uninspiring scenery again didn’t square with the hype from the tourist web site claims.
We persevered into a head wind, and decided to take pot luck on a winery signed off the trail..3.5kms. We rang ahead to confirm it was open and a very cheery fellow said yes they were open and he’d love to offer us a tasting. Things were looking up, and just got better and better!
Stanton and Killeen winery turned out to be a real find. We worked our way though an extensive tasting list, ranging from a white variety we had never heard of (Alvarinho) to a sparkling tempranillo. They also had classic Rutherglen shiraz and both straight and blended Durif. Interestingly they had consciously moved away from growing some of the varieties that need function best in moist cool climates (like Rieslings) and instead focused on these Iberian varietals from Spain and Portugal that would be more robust in our changing climate.
Upon spotting Catherine’s camera, Rob offered us a peek around their “back stage” and we jumped at the chance. They had massive 120 year old well seasoned barrels for their many and varied fortified wines, as well as new French oak ones
We were then into tasting the fortified wines for which this region is globally famous. They had a luscious white port that is designed to be served chilled as an aperitif, then the smooth Tokays and muscats that make it onto fine dining menus the world over. It was also refreshing to hear that the winery was having success in the Chinese market, given how challenging others had described it to be.
Despite being a little tight for space in the Zone we thought we could squeeze in a few bottles…
Stanton and Killeen, you saved Rutherglen’s brand, in our minds at least, and then the next morning another gem of a find, the local butchers. There is nothing quite like a quality country town butchers. The Rutherglen Meat Co Butchery was a delight to shop in. From my years in sales, and keeping up with the research into what makes people buy, I can only encourage people who want to sell things to be as enthusiastic and sincere as this lady is about her products. She asked questions, built rapport, and offered suggestions about things to do unrelated to buying her product. Brilliant. We packed up the Zone and moved on south towards Beechworth via the winery to pick up our goodies…
Location: Newark & Harby, Nottinghamshire, Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire, London and Hastings, East Sussex, UK
Our final week in the UK for a while went quickly, the autumn temperatures dropping and the wet weather continuing. We are so fortunate to have good friends John and Catriona living not far from where we are storing Truffy, with a nice flat driveway on which we spent a good day avoiding the showers and getting him prepared to store.
The Hymer Owner’s Group was again invaluable in its help providing an essential checklist on all the many things we needed to do to ensure our little camper would make it through a British winter unscathed, and we set about draining tanks, blowing water out of pipes, cleaning and removing soft furnishings. We are so grateful for our friends’ large attic space where we have stored anything that might freeze or suffer from damp.
We made sure we were finished by the weekend when friends Stuart, Karen, Barny and Mel arrived for a farewell/reunion, revisiting our memories of our last time together back in June in La Marche, Italy. It was a fun weekend with a few gins sampled from around the country – with contributions from as far apart as the Outer Hebrides, Cornwall and Hastings.
While the others enjoyed the Wales-South Africa rugby match on Sunday morning, we jumped on our bikes for a final ride, enjoying the emergence of bright sunshine but braving the chilly temperatures to ride 15km along a rail trail from the village of Harby to the River Trent. Apparently funding has been secured by a community group to extend this path all the way to Nottingham – we look forward to doing that once it is completed.
Sunday afternoon saw us heading out for a stroll around Whisby Nature Park, an old quarry which has been transformed into a wetland environment with walks and bird hides.
Our short walk blew out the cobwebs before we all farewelled each other until next year.
On Monday it was time to drive to Hawton Waters to store Truffy. We left him locked up safe and sound and went off on our way. From here we hired a car and drove south to Milton Keynes.
Mr A: While Mrs A was off to London then Hastings I had a few magic days with my daughters in Milton Keynes. I would count as the highlight of our trip this year the opportunity to spend time with them, and their children. two of my grandkids were away with this time, but the two who were around were plenty to handle!
I am just amazed when I watch mums of young children just power through the endless challenges of parenting, especially when it’s school holidays as it was this week.
We had a couple of outings, a walk along the River Ouse was declared “enjoyable” by my older grandson, quite an accolade really considering mum had to prise him away from his Minecraft game!
That night I took my two daughters out for a meal, and what an absolute pleasure that was. Turkish and Lebanese fine dining, in the best company.
Wednesday was a trip out to an open farm, the coldest place I have ever stood in. I have gone so soft in the Australian sun. The boys loved it though, interacting with the animals and playing on the farm toys.
Mrs A: Mr A dropped me at Milton Keynes Station and I took the train into London. There I spent a lovely evening in Twickenham staying at a friend’s house. Jacky is another of the wonderful women I’ve met through my rare disease – making special friends is certainly one of the unexpected benefits of running the support group.
Tuesday morning saw me back at Charing Cross Hospital for my next airway examination and set of steroid injections. I was fairly anxious about this appointment given my breathing had declined over the past month, and I was worried the scarring was quickly returning. It was with some relief I was told I just have an infection and the scar has remained at bay.
After my appointment I travelled over to Charing Cross Station (nowhere near the hospital of the same name) and met my mum at Trafalgar Square. We spent a great afternoon visiting the Royal Acadamy of Arts for an exhibition of Lucian Freud’s self portraits followed by a browse around the Covent Garden Market stalls.
We concluded our London day out with a pre-dinner drink at the Fortnum and Mason Wine Bar, followed by dinner at Viet Food in Chinatown.
It was a fun mother-daughter catch up and chance to treat mum for her birthday which I missed in September.
Wednesday was an opportunity to spend some time with my 97 year old grandmother. She has been unwell recently and spent some time in hospital with pneumonia and cellulitis, and hearing she was back on antibiotics I made it a priority to get in and see her. It’s one of the challenges of travelling, especially when you’re on the other side of the world, wondering whether it will be the last time you see someone you love. She was in great spirits, rosy cheeks from her infection, but still full of smiles and laughter and could still remember ‘Catherine visiting all the way from Orstralia!’.
Thursday: So now its time to head back to Australia, heads crammed with memories of so many wonderful experiences. Time with friends and family, as well as learning about so many new places. Our dream to travel in Europe, converted to memories of 8 different countries.
People travel for pleasure for lots of different reasons. For us it‘s the opportunity to make new friends, deepen the existing relationships we have, explore new countries and try to understand a little of their culture and history. It’s been simply amazing. To get to share this with adventure with someone as smart, funny, positive and gorgeous as my wife/husband – truly awesome.
Location: Bakewell and Chatsworth House, Peak District, Derbyshire, UK
Sunday: We left our hotel in Chester behind, but not before enjoying a final long, long, shower – then heading back to our life of short showers in the motorhome or disappointing shower blocks on campgrounds. Well, it rains enough here to never have to feel guilty about water usage!
We left Cheshire headed into Derbyshire and over to the small town of Bakewell, famous for its tarts. Not the short skirt wearing variety, but the yummy decked-out-with-butter-pastry type.
We tried to set up to stay the night there, but after all this rain we couldn’t get on our ramps as they just sunk into the mud. So it was a quick tour around town instead, and some power shopping for yet more warm clothes, before heading off for the night to a campground adjacent to the estate of Chatsworth House, famous for being the filming location of Pride and Prejudice and the Colin Firth version of Mr Darcy.
Our visits to Chester and Bakewell have encouraged us to reflect on what we’ve enjoyed though about these small English towns, as we prepare mentally to leave them behind and head back to Australia. There have been a number of really standout examples of vibrant little centres like this one at Bakewell. There were so many niche stores, from cheese shops to gin emporia, and quality independent clothing stores, cosy cafes and enticing pubs, all bustling with people.
Mrs A and I often wonder what the magic formula is, why some small towns seem to flourish and others in a similar geography wither. We had some ideas from our own observations, but I’ve been doing some digging and reading up to see what the experts say . The formula seems to be the creation of what one of the global leaders in urban planning Brent Toderian termed “a sticky street” – places where people want to linger. Structural changes such as pedestrianising areas are in the hard to do bucket, but essential to make them people friendly. It’s something we always comment on when wandering around a new town or village, ‘Who wants to linger in a street with cars and lorries thundering by?‘ Then changes being made that make that environment even more attractive, with entertainment for instance, like street artists. In Chester I stopped for ages listening to a guy playing an electric violin, it was so beautiful. I meandered around even more shops and spent money.
Another key strategy bringing back to life the high streets of some towns is the independent shops selling the non-commoditised goods we don’t see on Amazon. Why would you go to a high street where most of what is on sale you can have delivered? It all seems so obvious, so what’s stopping so many councils from acting and providing leadership? I think of our own little high street in a suburb of Sydney, where several of the store owners I know are against pedestrianising the street because they are afraid business will drop! A half decent councillor with an eye on something more than feathering there own pocket (thinking of several of the ones we’ve met) would be able to show them the data and convince them. It’s just a no brainer. Once we settle back down somewhere I think I may have to have a go at local politics and stop bitching from the sideline.
So it was goodbye to Bakewell and a lovely 6 mile drive over to Chatsworth House and the camp site that was heaving at the seams, with I would guess, over a 100 caravans and motorhomes. There’s a lot of us about.
It’s nestled right next to the 1,000 acre Chatsworth Estate, with its grounds designed by Capability Brown (famous for designing landscapes that look as though they could be natural, while presenting a range of trees, colours and textures to the view).
Monday morning we walked through to Chatsworth House park and heard a strange noise behind us. We turned to see a herd of deer leaping over a fence. Well the big ones did, the smaller deer had second thoughts.
We continued through the grounds to the grand house.
Mrs A explored the house while I inspected the cafe in some detail. My ankle was still playing up so I couldn’t really do the place justice.
The house continues to be lived in by the present Duke and Dutchess of Derbyshire, and in recent years has had a substantial revamp with more than £33 million spent on it restoring the building inside and out.
There is an extensive collection of sculptures and statues, and a whole room dedicated to a collection going back several hundred years.
In the late afternoon we took a gentle walk into the small village of Nether End nearby, and of course a cosy pub beckoned.
Location: Whitelee Wind Farm, Scotland & Kendal, Cumbria, England, UK
We decided to make a dash down south and get some miles driven while my ankle was preventing me from being very active. Leaving Scotland behind felt OK, because we know we will be back. It felt weird being back on multi lane roads again, surrounded by traffic. We’re going to miss the brooding silence of Scotland’s relatively sparsely populated countryside.
We saw that the UK’s largest wind farm, at Whitelee just south of Glasgow, was on our path south and had an overflow car park that allowed overnight parking. So we pulled up just before the visitor centre closed and had a wander around the extremely well presented exhibition. Wind power is blowing hot (he he ) right now in Scotland, not a surprise to us given the weather we’ve experienced! Apparently they are now generating twice as much power as they need to keep Scotland lit up like a jock with his kilt on fire.
We retired to Truffy suitably impressed, and were looking forward to a final quiet night in Scotland. Well it was not to be, for me at least. I was woken at midnight by a car driving past then parking quite close to us. There were no other motorhomes there, we were on our own in the middle of a moor, with only 216 wind turbines keeping their lofty but impersonal watch over us. Another car pulled up, and clearly some sort of deal was going on between the vehicles. I peered out of a crack in our blind. Voices got louder, and I was on full alert as one of the guys wandered down towards us, smoked, stared our way, then wandered back to apparently clinch his deal. That car left then an hour later and another arrived! It was a sleepless night for me, while Mrs A blithely “purred” (ladies like here don’t snore apparently) through the comings and goings. In seven months of camping in UK/Europe its my first experience of not feeling safe. Not a bad average. However, I guess it only takes one wrong un…but at 4am finally all was quiet and I got some fitful sleep.
The next day, a rather bleary eyed I piloted us down the motorways towards the Lake District. We ended up at a caravan park on the outskirts of Kendal, branded as the “gateway to the lakes”.
Walkers amongst you will be familiar with the world renowned product from this town, Kendal Mint Cake. A sugar rush to fire you up on those long walks, and favoured by Sir Edmund Hilary on his first accent of Mount Everest, and still going strong. It has a really almost overpowering mint flavour, and smell, as our strongest sense, has probably kept customers coming back for more to rekindle memories of past happy hours spent rambling. My theory anyway..
It’s a nice quiet park and we once again fell asleep to the sound of rain pattering on the roof. Will we be able to still doze off so easily on our travels around drought ridden Australia? We spent the morning doing some catch up FaceTiming with friends over there. Without this channel to keep in touch I think we would have second thoughts about socially isolating ourselves in the way we have travelling like this.
My ankle felt well enough today to try a bike ride into town. Purely by accident we found a vegan cafe which served dairy free scones that were a real treat for madam, and blood orange tea. It was a lovely cosy place, and once again my brain flicked to thinking how we will miss things like this when we head back. Getting rugged up and then ducking in from the cold to a pub or cafe. There’s something very primitive about feeling protected in the modern equivalent of a cave. We love that in the motorhome as well. Shutting out the weather, without feeling guilty about not being out there doing something in the sunshine. It’s lovely to experience these changing seasons.
The next day we decided to stay on at Kendal, Catherine had had a poor night with sinus pain and the drugs she was taken had kept her awake most of the night. A low level of physical activity characterised our morning, punctuated by egg and bacon sandwiches listening to the rain pattering on the roof. Thank goodness for my Kindle app and a great read.
In the afternoon the sun peeked out nervously, and we decided to see how my ankle would hold up to a walk into town. It did, and a return to our vegan cafe was the incentive. Chocolate and beetroot cake was selected my madam, and apparently I had to….SHARE…even writing the word brings a little shiver of horror. Anyway, share I did and it was delicious.
I was then persuaded to hobble up the castle, they’re always on the top of hills of course, but it was a fine autumnal day and the view of Kendal nestled into the valley was fabulous. By the time we made it back to camp we had walked just over 8km (5 miles)…it seems my ankle is on the mend.
Location: Kinlochbervie, Durness and Helmsdale, Highlands, Scotland
Wednesday: We continued our jaunt up the west coast of Scotland, on yet another wild, wet and windy day. Its actually hard to imagine seeing these hills with blue skies, I just don’t think it would it would look right.
Our first treat of the day was having sight of our first large wild mammals in the UK. A trio of deer ran across the road and sloshed their way over the moor, but not before giving us an inquisitive look as if to say “What on earth are you doing voluntarily out in this weather? We have no choice!”.
One of the absolute joys of motorhoming is the ability to stop on any levelish piece of ground and produce an amazing lunch in the middle of nowhere. Today was another feast with perfectly poached eggs (you know when the yolk just flows over your toast in an ooze rather than a flood ….or even worse, horror of horrors, won’t flow at all) and locally caught and honey smoked salmon. A freshly brewed Pukka fennel tea rounded it off.
We decided we really should don the rain gear and head out to stretch the legs. Driving around Loch Assynt, we spy a “Catherine-size” dinky castle alongside. We just make it to the ruined pile of rocks as yet another rain squall belts sideways at us. We retreat to Truffy and continue on our way up the west coast.
My co-pilot has identified a stop over at the small fishing village of Kinlochbervie, where the community has put in some motorhome services right on the edge of the harbour. Check out our view for the night!
It’s interesting how some communities see the potential for bringing a bit more cash into town, and others just put up “no overnight parking” signs. There really isn’t a lot to spend your money on in town though. A Spar corner shop and a pub. It will do us nicely.
The community differentiates their home town as being the most northerly port in Scotland, and apparently was shortlisted by the Oxford Dictionary as a definition of remote. Well by UK standards I would agree, but by Australian standards, it’s practically next door to everything, with a good mobile signal, shop, pub, fishing port, 240 power, sewerage system, surfaced roads…and only 60 miles to the nearest decent supermarket. Call that remote?
Thursday: Kinlochbervie to Durness
We had another wild weather night of howling wind and lashing rain, but were tucked up tight, and in the grey light of morning we were off along the top of Scotland.
We needed to get out for a stomp as the forecast was only “light showers and moderate winds” (a good one for Scotland!). We parked up at Durness Golf club, who’s claim to fame is being the most northerly golf course on the UK mainland, and also the furthest north we would be going on our trip this time.
It was a fabulous walk, one of the best so far, along the towering cliffs of this wild and (relatively!) remote coastline. Now I’m colour blind, but could even recognise that we were somewhere quite special. Check out these shots from my camera wielding maestro of the lens.
In the distance we heard a huge boom, and I had remembered reading that there’s an island off shore that has the misfortune to be around the same size as an aircraft carrier, so becomes target practice for our and our Allies’ armed forces. It’s quite funny reading that there’s a “conservation society” formed to “protect” the island’s flora and fauna. Nothing the odd massive bomb can’t put right I hope!
Back at Truffy we (I use that term loosely) knocked up the usual cracking lunch from on board supplies, and headed off to find a park for the night. We thought it was going to be the cutely named Smoo Cave Hotel, but the landlord was having a bad day when I asked if it was OK to park overnight and come and have dinner (or I looked a bit rough round the edges after a few days off the grid) and so we made other plans. The pub cat, meanwhile, was far more welcoming and our first Scottish feline to come and say hi.
Before we moved on, we checked out the cave the pub was named after. Smoo Cave was a haunt of Vikings, smugglers, murderers, and general nefarious carrying on, it was quite a geological as well as cultural marvel.
Interest assuaged, we left Durness and found another car park with a view. The rain lashed down, a familiar pattern, thank goodness we have a motorhome that doesn’t leak, unlike some we read about on our forums.
Friday: Durness to Helmsdale
We had a longish day of driving ahead, as we planned to point Truffy’s nose south and head down for east coast though a wonder-world of massive peat bogs, apparently the thickness of a double decker bus! Now that will keep a few home fires burning for a while.
We needed to find a service point to dump waste water, take on fresh, and empty the loo. Unfortunately whilst carrying said toilet cassette, I didn’t notice the gravel slope, my ankle rolled and I fell down in an ungainly heap, but at least with the presence of mind to batt away the rather full toilet which was bouncing around near my head!
We called in to a doctor’s surgery in the village. The doctor had just gone home for the day, but drove back in to see me – it’s not a big village, but even so, pretty good service. He assessed and said there was no need for an x-ray, just tendon damage, strapped me up and off I went, limping like an old crock!
Before long we turned right and off the North Coast 500, heading south-east. I think our windscreen wipers are going to be worn out by the time we leave Scotland, although it sounds like its not much better in England. It was a wet drive, and although we stopped briefly to check out the Forsinard Flows, an RSPB wetland area. I stayed indoors with my foot up, while Catherine headed out. She returned after 20 minutes looking cold and wet having seen no birds, and we pressed on.
We had an overnight destination in mind, the Bannockburn Inn, featured on one of our apps as being “motorhome friendly” and encouraging free overnight parking in exchange for buying dinner. Well this one actually was friendly, from the moment Catherine walked in and was treated by the landlady like a long lost friend. She was from Brighton mind…and the evening just got better with the best fish and chip supper we’ve had on the trip…and curry sauce and mushy peas, washed down with some local gins. Apparently gin is very good for repairing tendons…
Location: The Isles of Harris and Lewis, Outer Hebrides, Scotland, UK
The Outer Hebrides…I just like saying the name as it conjures up in my mind images of being really “out there”. Actually the reality is a bit different, but still very appealing.
We watched from the top deck of the ferry as the island of Harris appeared and our tiny debarkation point of Tarbert. Now, firstly lets clear something up. The island of Harris is joined to the island of Lewis. They aren’t seperate islands but are referred to as seperate. Make sense? No, didn’t to us either. There are various explanations given, like different clans distinguishing their own territory, or the geography in that a range of mountains makes access between the two difficult, or at least used to. We quite happily pottered from one to the other. So with that muddy water stirred up let me just add that the Outer Hebrides is sometimes called the Western Isles, and the main reason you might have heard of Harris (Harris Tweed) is mostly made in Lewis. All clear now?
So Harris is split geographically into the quite bumpy North Harris and the flatter South Harris. We were sort of in the middle when we landed at the dinky ferry port of Tarbert. So how do people in Tarbert explain where they live? “Well I’m in the middle of North and South Harris, in the Harris end of Harris and Lewis in the Outer Hebrides come Western Isles”? Perplexing…
I had called ahead to book us dinner at the Harris Hotel, using my usual gambit to secure a free night’s accomodation of “So we’d like to book dinner, but as we are travelling in a motorhome I wonder if you could advise of anywhere to stay within walking distance. We intend to order a decent bottle of red and are not keen to drive”. I know Tarbert doesn’t have a campsite. I got the response I was hoping for. “Well we have a large car park, feel free to use that if you would like”. Sorted…and £25 saved towards that bottle of red.
But our first stop was metres from the ferry point, the Harris Distillery. This imposing looking building was made possible through the combination of EU grants and the backing of a Scots born ex CEO of Monsanto. His US$77 million payout might have helped. You would assume a distillery in Scotland produces whiskey…nope..its gin. Gin has made them profitable in these gin fuelled times. They are distilling whiskey, but its not available for sale yet. We loved the gin. Apparently its differentiator is the sugar kelp (yup, seaweed) infused in their copper gin still, and gathered by a virgin diver (poetic license) from the pristine waters around the island. Great to see a business like this doing well in such a geographically remote corner of the UK.
Well our dinner at the Harris Hotel was absolutely gorgeous, everything that had been missing on Skye. A friendly barmaid welcomed us, the atmosphere was cosy, and the food….scrumptious. After a quick perusal of the menu, with no conferring, we both as usual made exactly the same choices. Too much time together harmonising our tastes? Locally caught herring for entree, followed by the plumpest scallops I’ve ever seen, with locally grown veg that tasted like it had been dug up that afternoon. What a feast. Our first meal out since Edinburgh. We tried hard to eat out in Skye but nothing tempted.
The one time we went out in Skye intending to eat, the barmaid (we later learned also licensee) was so rude we had one beer and left. Disappointing…but Harris delivered in spades. I wonder why Skye was so poor? Other friends who visited had said the same. Too many visitors and not enough incentive to try hard? Who knows…
The next morning we headed off to explore South Harris, known for its spectacular sandy beaches. Apparently an advert for a Thailand holiday destination was caught using a shot of one of them. They were beautiful, but we only had to step out from behind the glass of our windscreen into the biting wind to be very clear we were not anywhere that either of us was going to be going for a paddle.
We stopped to buy some home made mustard from a roadside stall, then paused in amazement when we saw the price. £6.50 (AU$12)for 200ml jar! I’m all for supporting local businesses but hard to feel that was value for money, so sorry mustard maker, we will make do with the beautiful small batch seeded mustard we brought in France for a quarter of that price.
The edge of the bad weather that has been drenching the UK caught us, the rain came down and so we spent longer than usual in the car driving up through the island (islands?) to Lewis. I was keen to visit the standing stones at Calanais, or is it Callanish Standing Stones? They are variously named and spelled differently just to keep us visitors on our toes, even after we have worked out the whole Harris and Lewis thing. Anyway, another one of those mysteries I love, with archeologists mystified about the significance of the location and function of these other circles in the area. In fact this one isn’t even really a circle, but flat on one side. So for 5,000 years the people who have lived here have been trying to mislead and confuse…I like it.
We dutifully watched the video in information centre and left no wiser understanding what the people who once put so much effort into dragging around these stones were trying to do. Its a bleak old place today, and we weren’t outside that long before hot chocolates back at the visitor centre seemed the wise choice.
The site we had been trying to call to confirm a place for the night had not been answering the phone, so we just rocked up to see a closed sign on the signpost! We had checked their web site and Google page – nothing left to warn people. OK we were pissed. How long does it take to record a message on your phone saying “we are closed for the season”, or change your Google Maps entry? Clearly too much effort for these folk. However, there was a free spot marked on one of our apps just down the road, and check out this view!
We had it all to ourselves while the rain lashed down and the wind howled. Our LPG run heating system got a workout, and a Thai jungle curry from Mrs A warmed us from the inside out and a Harris gin went down a treat.
So another £20 in camp fees saved. We are warm, dry and have enough power from our 12v system to run all we need and can have a lovely hot shower in the morning without venturing across a campground in the cold and wet. I just have the job of emptying our toilet somewhere tomorrow. Not a bad trade for a lovely view and a few extra pounds to spend. In places that don’t have “No overnight camping” signs on every piece of flat land, it is quite lovely.
Our final day in the island of….well lets call it Lewis, although when we arrived in Stornaway this morning, the castle was called Lews Castle. the mystery continues. We have a mooch around the harbour in the drizzle, all rugged up and wondering where all the people are going as there’s not a single place open in town…except the church. Well its been a long time since I’ve witnessed this, people are dressed up in their Sunday best, three piece suits, ties – the lot, and going to a service of some kind. Ah well, each to their own. We make our way down to the ferry wharf and trundle Truffy on. He’s getting to be quite an experienced ferry traveller now!
Goodbye Outer Hebrides, welcome Western Isles, its been an experience we will always remember, even if they like to keep you guessing out here 🙂
Location: Broadford and Dunvegan, Isle of Skye, Scotland, UK
Scotland…the part of the British Isles that my parents fell in love with and retuned to for so many years of wonderful holidays, bird spotting, walking the hills when they could. To visit here and see some of the same places they must have gazed at in wonderment, as we are, is quite special.
I’m an only child, no brothers or sisters to help keep memories alive, my daughters help me in that regard, but I’d love to just have one more conversation with my parents and ask all the questions I never asked when I thought they’d be here forever.
On the road over from the central highlands to the west coast we rounded a corner and there was this stunning sight to feast our eyes on.
Did my mum and dad see the same? Sadly I will likely never know, although I will be poring though my mum’s diaries when I go back to Australia. It’s a an evocative moment. Eilean Donan Castle is one of the more photogenic places we have set eyes on, almost rivalling the vista across Lake Bled in Slovenia for having all the ingredients that make us go “oooh”. Dating back to the 13th century, it was built to fight off the Viking invaders, then as a superb defensive position for warring Scottish clans. It even saw a group of Spanish soldiers assisting in the Jacobite rebellions use it as a base. It has been lovingly restored after being left in ruins for several hundred years, and now features in selfies from the coach loads of tourists pulling up to admire its beauty.
We arrived on the Isle of Skye via the road bridge that was opened in ‘95, and I could just hear my dad saying “Look Jill, look at that!”, as he nudged her in the ribs, seeing the soaring peaks of the island’s Cuillin range dropping down into the deep blue waters of the surrounding sea.
We had identified a campsite on the edge of the small town of Broadford, which straddles along a wide bay and river mouth. It was time to pull on the walking shoes and head for the hills. But first of course the flask needed to be filled. I am clearly walking in my father’s footsteps in this regard as well. At one point he was a 15 cups of tea a day man, a little too much caffeine me thinks…we stick to the caffeine-free herbal variety.
The views were out to the mainland and across some small outlying islands, with tiny cottages on them, for fisherfolk I assume. It’s wild and wooly country and we love it. We didn’t strike as lucky though going into town to try and find that stereotype of the welcoming Scottish pub, complete with fiddle player. Instead we found a horrible place with slot machines and widescreen TV showing the football. Ah well…perhaps the next town?
The next day also dawned clear in the morning, apparently its been a very wet late summer, so the locals are finding this showery autumnal weather “quite nice”, wandering round in shirt sleeves when its 10 degrees. Being unused to what feels to us like sub-arctic temperatures we are all rugged up I can tell you. Catherine was busy writing up her notes from the conference she attended, so I grabbed the opportunity to head out on the bike for a ride. And what a ride it was, through scenery that made it one of the more memorable I have ever done.
My iPhone and lack of skill with its camera just dont do it justice, and when returning back to Catherine I was so enthusiastic about what I’d seen we agreed to drive it the following morning. Later in the afternoon we took a stroll around the shore of Broadford, apparently the site of a Neolithic settlement (12,000 – 6,500 years ago) and many burial mounds, several dismantled over the years to use the rocks for houses and walls.
Tuesday morning we retraced my stunning cycling path along the road from Broadford to the isolated road’s end at Glasnakille, a collection of a few houses, tiny primary school and a boat shed offering tours up the coast.
These end-of-the-world places have a magic feel to them. The road was single track, windy with a few unprotected drops into an icy looking ocean, but I’m a lot more confident driving Truffy knowing what he and I can tackle together.
We wandered up the coast, and ended up at the Talisker distillery. Now I’m a fan of bourbon, but have never managed to acquire a liking for that smoky single malt flavour of whiskey, but I keep persevering.
We tried a couple, I’m still not convinced, Catherine was pretty neutral as well, so no purchases made.
It was another drive round the coast until we found a campsite in Dunvegan with a lovely view across a loch. A little amble round the village revealed a few places to eat but nothing that really grabbed us, a pattern that’s emerging in Skye.
Well, I hope my parents did see this part of Skye, it really is quite stunning. I’m going to tell myself they did and picture them sharing the pleasure we feel in seeing nature at its most scenic.