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: Helmsdale, Dunrobin Castle (Golspie), Fortrose and Eaglesham, Scotland, UK
We woke up to an unusual phenomenon in our pub carpark – sunlight streaming through the windows. Excited, we packed up and drove down to the harbour for a look around the tiny fishing village of Helmsdale. Although sunny, it was a fresh 7°centigrade, so we still wrapped warm, but really appreciated the break in the heavy cloud and showers and the drop in the wind.
We were unsure how long the fine weather would last, the best forecast being to look out of your window and see what’s happening! So we turned south and followed the coast a short way to Dunrobin Castle, a stately home that has been continuously inhabited (and still is) for the past 700 years.
One thing we noticed immediately as we drove was the slight change in vegetation, with more shrubs and small trees along the road, something that has been absent from our views since we were on the isles of Skye and Harris/Lewis, and even there they were rare.
Apparently Scotland used to be covered in far more woodland, but over the past 300 years has experienced a lot of deforestation – so much that now only 4% of Scotland has trees. Much of the clearing was for sheep grazing, deemed fear more profitable than trees, and then there were the Victorians who bought up great swathes of the highlands to use for hunting grouse and deer – they burned the hills to discourage trees and encourage heather, far easier for hunting. And finally, there are all the grazing animals – the sheep, cattle and deer themselves, all loving to chew on a seedling tree, ensuring it will never make it to fully grown.
As we turned into the driveway at Dunrobin Castle, we saw trees galore, lined up welcoming us towards the grand house.
Mr A with his sore sprained ankle settled down with a cup of tea and a good book while I jumped out for an explore. The castle was not yet open to visitors, so I headed into the adjoining woodland, following paths and stairways through the mossy trees, enjoying the delicious autumnal aroma of decaying leaves, and the gentle rustle of the sea breeze through the beech trees.
Next I followed a path which wound steeply down past the castle, leading to the seafront. Dunrobin Castle looks out at the North Sea, eerily calm on this Saturday morning.
The castle has been amended over the centuries, with the architect of London’s Houses of Parliament amongst others who have influenced its design. It looks to me like a French Château – and would not seem out of place along the Loire Valley.
The exterior of the castle and grounds having piqued my interest, I checked Mr A was ok, before buying my ticket for an explore inside. The grand entrance hall with its roaring open fire is very welcoming.
Unlike many historical buildings and castles, this house did not feel sterile and cold, museum like. Instead it was set up to feel like a home, as though you were a guest invited to stay, admire the little trinkets and souvenirs saved over the centuries.
Walking up the stairs you first enter a hallway and then a billiards room. You can almost hear the clink of whiskey glasses being enjoyed over a game or two in the room. A little typewriter written poem framed in a corner caught my eye:
The Batchelor’s Wish
One female companion to soften my cares
Two thousand a year to support my affairs
Three dogs and a gun when to sport I incline
Four horses and chaise to indulge me and mine
Five jolly companions with whom to make merry
Six dishes each day with six glasses of sherry
Seven beds in my house for my friends at their leisure
Eight somethings or other to add to their pleasure
Nine pounds in my pocket when cash I require
These favours are all that on Earth I desire, and a
Passport to heaven when from Earth I retire.
Gentleman’s Monthly Intelligencer, 1778
I wonder what the equivalent bachelor’s wish would be in 2019? And I wonder what the somethings or other are….?
I moved on through to the dining room, set up with the family silver all ready for a fine dinner party for 10.
On next to the music room, beautiful ornate ceilings and perfectly cared for showcases full of gifts, donations and collectables from throughout the centuries.
I was tickled to spot a slipper once belonging to General Garibaldi and left behind after a visit. I can imagine some excited maid trotting up to the Duke to present this, before getting it mounted to display in a cabinet! It has to be the first slipper I have seen on display in a long while…
The attention to detail in each room is unlike anything you would see today – the coats of arms, the polished brass cats presenting the fire, the immaculately dust and soot free marble fireplaces.
In the older part of the castle we came across the Seamstress’s Room, also known as ‘the haunted room’. Nobody living today has seen or heard the ghost here, but stories go back to the 1500s. The story goes that in the 15th century the Earl of Sutherland captured and imprisoned a beautiful young woman from a rival clan, with plans to marry her. She tried to escape by climbing down a rope of sheets, but the Earl on discovering her trying to escape, swiped the sheets with his sword and she fell to her death.
In more recent times, footsteps have been frequently heard in another part of the castle, when there are no people present…so they have a ghost with no story, and a story with no ghost…
There is also a museum on site containing many collections from over the centuries, swords, more hunting trophies and other trinkets, but I felt I had left Mr A long enough, so missed it out and returned to Truffy so we could be on our way.
The landscape continued to evolve as we headed south, with our first agricultural farming for a while, all with a fabulous backdrop of cliffs and woodland.
Our destination for the night was a caravan park near the small settlement of Fortrose, on the banks of the Moray Firth, across from Inverness. Unlike Dunrobin Castle the wind was whistling across the water, making it quite fresh. We hibernated in Truffy for the afternoon while a machine did our washing.
Sunday morning was clear and sunny, and the wind had dropped off to make it a rather pleasant temperature. We decided to move on our way however, with the wet weather forecast to return.
Before we left the area we drove up to Chanonry Point, home to a lighthouse and also a favoured feeding place for seals, bottle nosed dolphins and porpoises.
As soon as we pulled up I spotted a dorsal fin, either a dolphin or porpoise, but it soon dipped under the water and didn’t reemerge. It was a seal we saw most of, as it popped its head out of the water and gave us all a good look on the shore before dipping under and chasing breakfast.
We stayed a short while to watch the seal, before heading off. As predicted, the fine weather didn’t hang around, and it wasn’t long before we were back in familiar rain. A good driving day, we decided, and another opportunity for Mark to rest his ankle.
We drove a good 320km (200 miles) to just south of Glasgow, spending our final night in Scotland for this trip on the UK’s largest wind farm, Whitelee near the village of Eaglesham. We hoped to have a peaceful night’s sleep on the carpark here, in an area well known for badgers, owls and other wildlife.
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: Ullapool and Altandhu, north-west Scotland, UK
After driving off the ferry from the Isle of Lewis, we turned right and drove a few hundred metres along the road to The Royal Hotel, a pub with a large car park and electrical hook up points available to motorhomes for a token payment of £10.
After getting set up, we went into the pub for dinner. There we met a lovely Canadian couple on holiday from the USA who had just finished travelling the route around the north coast of Scotland. They were happy to share their tips for places to visit, and in return we helped them with some ideas for their upcoming trip to Australia. It was a fun evening and we enjoyed a meal and bottle of wine together.
Weather-wise, it was a rough night, with the wind blowing up to gale force, rocking us from side to side, inter dispersed with torrential rain. Neither of us slept well, with Mr A Googling in the wee hours ‘how easy it is for a motorhome to be blown over?’ (answer: not easy unless you’re on a hill or already unstable). The ferries over to and from the Isle of Lewis were cancelled due to the rough conditions making us grateful we’d left when we did.
We decided to stay in Ullapool a second night, with the village being the largest settlement we’re likely to come across for quite some time. We took our sheets, towels and some clothes to a local laundromat to be washed, and dodged the showers wandering around some of the many little shops and cafes, finding a great spot for lunch.
The afternoon rewarded us with lengthier dry spells so we pulled on our hiking gear and did a walk that started behind the pub. It was short but fairly steep, taking us up to 250 metres (824 ft) with some fabulous views. Up the top it was very windy, and we watched the clouds gathering over the loch ready to give us another good soaking.
Tuesday morning we moved on our way, calling in at the last small supermarket, pharmacy and smokehouse (!) we would see for a while. Our destination was the tiny settlement of Altandhu.
Altandhu is a tiny hamlet on the coast, looking out over the Summer Isles. It is described as being virtually untouched for the past 40 years, and driving down the windy single track roads, it felt quite familiar after our travels around the islands last week.
We pulled up at our campground in strong wind and rain, wondering what on earth we were doing. But as always, a break in the weather soon had us appreciating the spectacular scenery that is uniquely Scottish.
Checking in we learned that the Port a Baigh campground shop was in fact the only store for the whole area, and it’s pretty well stocked up with groceries. Apparently before this shop opened, local residents had to drive at least a two hour return trip into Ullapool to get their litre of milk.
Sensing a break in the rain, we pulled on our wet weather gear and went for an explore. We walked down to the next bay, Old Dornie.
We actually learned that some changes are afoot in the area, after the largest of the Summer Isles, Tanera Mor, was purchased in 2017 by London businessman Ian Wace and his wife Saffron. In 2018 they commenced plans to rejuvenate the island, building luxurious holiday accomodation for up to 60 guests, utilising existing buildings and renovating other structures on the island. The project is taking around four years to complete, and as a result has breathed substantial life into the area.
Many of the tradespeople are being housed locally, and the little bay we walked to was a ferrying point for many of the materials and personnel. The lady running the campground shop told us she had joined her partner on a tour of some of the properties, marvelling at the brass baths…it sounds intriguing!
We decided to book in at the local pub for dinner, the Am Fuaran Bar. This was a short walk from the campground and housed in an old 1800s renovated building. The late father of one of the publicans used to live in the house, and the pub is full of photographs and memorabilia. It was warm and cosy and absolutely buzzing with locals and tradespeople from the Tanera Mor project. We had a delicious meal – a beef pie for Mr A and delicious locally caught langoustines for me (cross between a small lobster and a large king prawn). Finally, the pub we have been looking for!
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: Neist Point Lighthouse, Dunvegan Castle. Portree, and Uig, Isle of Skye, UK
Sunrise on Thursday morning was a pink affair, complete with a seal fishing in the loch just metres from us. It was also about 7 degrees centigrade, so we just admired the wildlife from the warmth of the camper.
We decided to drive out to Neist Point Lighthouse, supposedly spectacular walking and amazing views. The road out there, as we have come to expect on Skye, was single track and rather potholed, with some extremely narrow passing spots, often leaving us teetering on the edge of a steep drop. Mr A used every ounce of strength to overcome his fear of heights (and fear of us toppling down a precipice!) to skilfully guide us to the coast.
Once there, we stepped out into gale force icy wind whistling off the sea, and I almost leaped back into Truffy to shelter. A stern look from Mr A told me I needed to at least sight the lighthouse before we drove back along that road! Wearing almost every warm thing we own, we picked our way along the cliff top to admire the spectacular coastline. Steep plunging cliffs, a combination of black rock and green foliage, heading down to a deep turquoise sea, covered in the white caps of rough windswept waves greeted us – just incredible.
Walking in the other direction, we found the views down to the lighthouse, deciding the forego the path that takes you down to its front door. It is absolutely breathtaking, even when viewed through eyes streaming with tears from the chill wind.
We didn’t hang around, musing at how an opportunity has been missed here by the community of Skye. Surely a clifftop cafe with nice warm double glazing serving steaming mugs of hot drinks, and selling locally made woollen gloves and beanies would make an absolute killing here? We certainly would have been a couple of willing customers.
We made our way back into Dunvegan and the privately owned Dunvegan Castle and gardens.
This has been home to the chief of the MacLeod Clan on Skye for 800 years. Towers and walls were put up over the centuries on this castle with no thought to the overall look and feel of the place, until the 1800s when the then then chief of the MacLeod Clan decided to ‘bring it all together’ rendering the outside and adding the more ‘castle-like’ features of the building such as drawbridge entranceway and canons pointing out into the Loch.
The current clan chief still lives in the castle, splitting his time between here and a house in London. The upper two floors remain locked and private, but we were able to explore the lower floors, well preserved and containing centuries worth of antiques and relics.
We were left to our own devices to explore the castle, its various towers and dungeons, the different centuries of rooms and stairwells quite evident.
We drove across the island to Portree, where we settled down in a campground for the evening.
The following morning we drove into Portree for a look around, finding it to be a sweet little fishing town. The first port of call was a friendly outdoors shop, and within 15 minutes I was kitted out with a Marino wool neck scarf, a nice warm bobble hat and some windproof and waterproof gloves. Finally I was suitably attired for the Scottish weather!
The UK and Ireland are taking a battering weather wise with plenty of rain and wind – the remnants of Hurricane Lorenzo, an Italian sounding storm which has been whipping things up off the coast of Africa and moving steadily in our direction. We thought we ought to take advantage of the fine weather and hit the road.
We followed the east coast, stopping to admire the spectacular views. An Cailc was an interesting location near where there used to be a diatomite mine (a clay-chalk like substance which goes into making dynamite, paints, polishes and even filtration for beer). Now there are just a few ruins of what was a major industry in the late 1800s and early 1900s, with the mine closing down in 1960.
We took our time enjoying the view but choosing not to take the steep and slippery walk down to the base of the waterfalls, before continuing on our way around the coast.
Reaching the top of the island, the road hugged the cliff, turquoise waters on our right and rolling greenery on our left. The colours can only be described as delicious and the scenery and road among the most beautiful we have seen.
We had decided to investigate staying longer in Scotland’s western isles, having been absolutely bewitched by Skye. We have seen a lot but not everything, and the island has more to offer us in the future. We headed to the little village of Uig, from where we knew we might be able to catch a ferry to the island of Harris.
It was meant to be. I managed to get us on the 14:10 sailing from Uig to Tarbert and we joined the queue.
It was a gentle couple of hours’ cruise over the inner seas off the West Coast of Scotland and time went quickly.
Before long we were sighting small islands and rocky outcrops again as we approached the island of Harris, home to Harris Tweed. The story from here will be over to Mr A, which he will share soon…
We really enjoyed our time in Skye, made all the more special by the fabulous weather. We know we were very lucky on this occasion – but please don’t be put off by the potential for cold or wet weather. It is a spectacular part of the world regardless.
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.
Location: The Hermitage, Dunkeld & Invergarry, Scotland
Let me start by saying a huge thank you for all the many messages of support and appreciation after Mr A’s thoughtful and amazing post yesterday. I’m feeling very warm and loved indeed! I had a great time at the conference in Edinburgh, made lots of new contacts and reconnected with those I have met and chatted to before. There’s much more work to be done in the future – I am helping with a couple of research papers and helping give advice to PhD students in the UK and USA working on research studies with iSGS patients…and another conference to attend and present at next year as well – so definitely keeping myself busy in the downtime.
After all the excitement of the conference in Edinburgh we decided to continue on our way, and Saturday morning saw us pointing our nose towards the Isle of Skye. While theoretically we could have driven there in a day, we decided to see some places on the way. I did a little research and found a National Trust place called The Hermitage.
The Hermitage was created in the early 1800s by a duke who wanted to honour a blind baird. It was part of the designed landscape of Dunkeld extending from the River Tay along the River Braan to Rumbling Bridge, a distance of approximately 1 mile (1.5km). It’s a beautiful woodland area and we read it was accepted for motorhomes to park up here overnight.
We decided to do the 8.5 km circuit walk from the car park. It wound through beautiful woodland of Douglas Fir trees (the tallest trees in the UK) following the River Braan. The river roared alongside us for much of the hike, punctuated by the odd splash which may have been salmon swimming upstream, as they apparently do here at this time of year.
The Braan circuit was one of the loveliest walks we have done, and highly recommended if you’re heading in this direction.
After a peaceful night’s sleep we headed off on Sunday morning with a similar plan – aiming for another free overnight location beside another river with some more walking.
This time we headed for a spot beside the River Garry, just down from Loch Garry. It sounds like a comedy name (where are Loch Kevin and Loch Darren we wondered?) but oh so picturesque. This is located just north of Fort William where we stopped for some food shopping on our way.
After parking up we put on the walking shoes again and set off for an explore. We were rewarded with another spectacular circuit walk, 7.5 km of scenery worthy of Lord of the Rings, moss carpeted woodland, the river Garry babbling alongside us for much of the way.
Other than a group of wild mushroom pickers(!) at the start of the hike we were by ourselves for the whole walk, a lovely magical experience.
All visitors were gone by 5pm, leaving us to a peaceful night with just the sound of the water for company. Just lovely.
This is surely what makes travelling in the off peak period so appealing – the ability to park up somewhere spectacular, enjoy the scenery and serenity as though it were your own. And having our home with us, this is absolutely possible.
We are often asked whether all this travelling gets tiring. We have to answer no. While there are some downsides (missing our friends, family and fur child) the upsides are many. If we were having to live out of a suitcase and unpack and repack on a regular basis, it would be tiring. But in our case, we have our own comfortable bed, with our own pillows and bedding, our clothes are always on hand, and we can cook, eat and drink whatever we like with our own pots and pans, herbs, spices and ingredients. The main thing that changes is the view outside our window, and that’s just the way we like it.
As I write this blog the lovely Mrs A is standing in front of a room full of super smart top surgeons and other health professionals from around the world at the “Cutting Edge Laryngology” conference in Edinburgh this week, presenting on how the rare disease she suffers from (idiopathic subglottic stenosis) has impacted her life, and how she has fought back.
For those unfamiliar with her story, she was diagnosed 15 years ago with this disease, and that was after several years of misdiagnosis. Being a researcher (a geek she bashfully says with that lovely smile) she turned to the internet for answers on how the disease is triggered (what had she done “wrong” to deserve it?), what treatment works and how to access it, and how to manage your life in the interim. There was almost nothing out there at the time, so in October 2009 she created a Facebook support group to see if she could connect with other people struggling with the same dearth of information.
Well after a slow burn, almost a decade later the group is now approaching 3,700 strong, thanks to endless hours of her nurturing and managing it and providing 24×7 support to fellow suffers around the world. Those who want and need to reach out and chat with others who are equally mystified, scared and often depressed about the lifestyle and health implications of having this life threatening and lifestyle inhibiting disease. In addition the group helps enable research into causes and treatments sponsored by medical universities, again something Catherine has driven and managed.
Idiopathic subglottic stenosis restricts the airway through scarring that builds up in the trachea (with no known cause) and creates difficulty in breathing. Sufferers just cant get enough air through their airway to function. The severity of their symptoms is dependent on how narrow the airway becomes, ranging from an irritating shortage of breath, to a blockage resulting in death. The rare disease affects 98% women – two in a million.
What I want to underline though is the how the glass is always half full for some people, and Catherine is the perfect example of that. She could have sat back and accepted she was a “victim” of this disease, given up exercising, given up trying to find out what causes it. But she didn’t, and I think it’s an inspiring story for others.
When we are out and about on our wanderings around the world she seeks to connect face to face with the people she has got to know online. I’ve been at a number of these meetings over the years, and I can tell you I have heard them say thank you for everything from saving their lives, to saving their sanity. We’ve had some amazing experiences as a result of connecting with these people, and I guess that’s one big reinforcement for me that if you give of yourself, as Catherine has, you are rewarded in so many unpredictable ways. I think the most valuable for her is the sense of contribution that she is making. Most studies on happiness will point to a key driver for people who describe themselves as experiencing that elusive state of happiness as having a network of relationships in a community (work family or other) that value that contribution. That’s what she has created though her voluntary work, and its a credit to her.
The upsides of creating this group just keep rolling in, none of them looked for at the beginning, and none drive her now. For instance, we have met so many members of her group now in different countries. In Australia, New Zealand, the UK, in the US, Netherlands, Germany and Austria, all who have been so welcoming of us and help make our travel time in their country so much more enriched with local knowledge. We’ve made new friends and had an insight into lives across the world we never would have had otherwise.
Also the medical community that she has got to know have also been truly inspiring for her. They work so hard to help their patients, with often little feedback on when they succeed. She’s met some fantastic people this way as well, and all the emotionally richer for it.
I attended one of the social functions of the conference earlier in the week and watched Catherine working the room, talking to these medical experts, building her network, and ensuring that she is in the best possible position to continue to get their support when she needs it, to help out one or all of her group. She was awesome.
Illness rarely has an upside (or does it?), but she has made one in this case. I’ve watched her develop new skills, and leverage, deepen and broaden her existing ones.
So that’s really want I want to say, that Catherine is a model for me of the potential “up side” of being unfortunate enough to suffer from an illness and I am constantly learning from her how to be more positive when life sends its little curve balls. Also that social media is a tool, to be used like any tool – to help or hurt.
Thank you to everyone who supports her in this voluntary work, whether by words of encouragement on the Facebook group, or friends who give her a nod to the time, dedication and perseverance it has taken. Give her a big round please.