Scotland 2011 Meandering in the Middle
Many of our Scottish holidays have been around the edge of Scotland so this time we thought we have a go at the middle. Well it became more of a muddle than the middle.
On the evening of 16th of March we set out for Scotland. Too early! we hear you cry but it had to fit around some other stuff so it was more or less go then or don't go and we had a number of reasons for going in 2011. Besides in 2009 on our coast odessey we started out on 1st April and that was excellent and of course midge free. This trip was one where we didn't make any real plans and so when we left the M25 on the M40 hadn't any idea where we would stop for the night, a motorway services we supposed. The first one we stopped at wanted £25 for us to stay longer than two hours so we moved on and that became the pattern, drive, stop for less than two hours and move on. Also note that they use cameras and numberplate recognition software so just because no one is around it doesn't mean that you have avoided a hefty 'fine'.
Sharing the driving we arrived at Dumfries by 9am we then drove to Irvine where we met up with Alistair and Marc who changed our Amperor Power Integrator (which we had to keep on resetting) and then back down to Prestwick Ayrshire to see my Aunt and Uncle then further south on the A713 to near Carsphairn and our first wild camp.
After a leisurely start, as you can see we were well tucked away, we drove further South to the Galloway Dark Sky Park, this, I should explain, is a part of the country that has little light pollution and so is great for viewing the night sky. My fairly new telescope was on board and it was one of the things we had planned for (but not via Irvine first). Breaking our onward journey for a walk at Black Loch we picked up some supplies in Newton Stewart and went on to Glen Trool.
Black Loch Walk
It started out a very clear night but with so many (too many) stars. How can there be too many? Well there were so many that instead of standing out, all the recognisable constellations (to a beginner) were obscured by the stars around them. Then the moon came out and brought some cloud so that was the end of stargazing for the night. You might get the impression that stargazers are picky, you are so right.
Day 4 and 5
Started the day with a walk around our wild camp area down the water of Trool. We then moved a few miles to the wild goat park to another wild camp but it was overcast and rainy. The next day we went on to Girvan by way of the B7027 and Newton Stewart. On the way we saw two red deer. We had a pleasant hour or so by the sea side at Girvan. Then on to Bridge of Weir to stay overnight with Alan and Nancy. Moon, Whisky and excellent company. Note that we have already put a loop into our journey adding around 140 miles to get to Bridge of Weir, told you it would be a muddle.
Drove next day (well Doreen did) to a Forest Holiday (Now Camping in the Forest) site at Ardgarten near the end of Loch Long. When we arrived the site was practically deserted, it was a Monday, so we took a pitch as far away from lights as we could to aid star gazing. The entertainment for the afternoon was a caravaneer who tried several different pitches out before deciding on one in front of us near the water. At dusk on went his awning light but with no awning yet erected it shone straight at our van. so I moved everything into its shadow to the rear of our van. Again too many stars to make out the constellations but just when I was on the point of giving up I saw Saturn and its rings low on the horizon. This was a first using my own telescope. You know that is quite a thrill, even though with my very portable scope the rings just looked like two ears either side of the planet. A few minutes later I gave up sky gazing for the night when the same caravan owner shone a megawatt torch into my telescope whilst he was calling for his dog.
The Various Moods of Argarten Campsite
We woke to heavy mist and rain but it had cleared up by the time we got to Cruachan power station some 30 miles away. This is a hydro system that pumps water up the mountain when there is spare grid capacity and lets it come back down to power the generators when there is peak demand. You book a trip in a small bus which takes you to the turbine hall inside the mountain. I thought you would see more but basically you were looking at some tall steel cylinders which could have been doing anything or nothing. There was plenty to see in the small museum while you wait for your turn in the bus and they do have a cafe. Returning to the campsite by another route we found some waymarked walks through the forest near Dalmally. They were nice walks with benches to rest on but one feature on their notice board nearly eluded us. There was a picture of a 'walking' tree with roots up in the air looking like legs. What they failed to tell us, and their drawing misrepresented it, was the scale of the thing, it actually was tiny, the roots were just a few feet long and I have included our photo of it below. Driving back via Tyndrum, Crianlarich and the top end of Loch Lomond we ended the day with a fish supper.
We retraced our path, up the side of Loch Lomond, through Crianlarich (again) and then turned right to Killin and then on to the banks of Loch Tay for lunch. There were workmen there but we didn't notice the signs saying the park place was closed. We moved on when the workmen had finished and asked us kindly to leave. By this time we had had our lunch and had the maps out planning a mini adventure.
Rannoch moor is one of the more inaccessible parts of Scotland, but the railway runs across it on its way to Fort William. At its heart lies Rannoch Station which is also served by a road famed by the old Scottish Song the 'Road to the Isles': "Sure by Tummel and Loch Rannoch And Lochaber I will go".
So what we thought we would do is head for the station and look out for suitable wild camps along the way. We got to the station and set our mind on the timetable to plan a trip for the following day and accordingly went to the nearest spot that we thought would make a suitable stay over, once the last train of the day had passed. By the way do any of you do what I do and take photos of timetables, walking guides etc so they can be looked at en route
Being by the side of the road with a girder bridge crossing a rushing river and beneath pylons, just a few miles from a railway station you might have thought it not to be remote. I promise you that once the last minibus had left the station we were as alone as one could be. The small leaning tree next to the van shows what sort of wind you get here but it was a still night. The gps also shows how remote it is.
We awoke long before any trafic blighted the day and looked out over the serene lake the other side of the bridge. Knowing that there were rubbish bins and recycling at the station I donned rubber gloves and taking a carrier bag made a sweep of the area. It had obviously been a well frequented site but there is no excuse for the TWO bags full that I collected, but I left the condoms where they were!
From Rannoch station you can go south towards Glasgow or North and west to Fort William. Unless we caught the first train of the day we would have to wait 5 hours for our return at Fort William which we didn't think fair on our dogs. Going to Crianlarich (again again) just left a half hour on the station so we decided to catch the train South at 12.42. It turned into a glorious day. Its a very interesting journey especially when between Bridge of Orchy and Tyndrum the line loops around 270 degrees, or so it seems.
Rannoch Moor and Crianlarich
At Crianlarich we ate our sandwiches in the sun before going back again on the train from Glasgow which divides here, half going to Oban, then our half left for Rannoch and Fort William. If you look at the map the rail journey between Fort William and Oban is probably three times longer than by road. In the evening sunshine we drove to a different wild camp near the war memorial on the end of Loch Rannoch. It was a very starry night.
Schiellion is a very pointy mountain overlooking Kinloch Rannoch. It was there in 1774 that the Astronomer Royal, Nevil Maskelyne, conducted experiments to determine the gravitational attraction of mountains. This effect caused plumb lines to deviate from the vertical. The site was originally chosen by Charles Mason (he of Mason-Dixon line fame) as it is a peak remote from other peaks.
During the work the volume of the mountain had to be calculated and to do this contour lines were drawn which was a mapping technique not used in Britain at the time. Two of the early founders of the Ordnance Survey were also involved William Roy and Charles Hutton.
We climbed to the 600m contour of this very famous mountain, had a snowfight with the dogs and then returned to the car park well below, we then drove via Tummel Bridge to our eventual night stop between the road and the fast flowing river. When we got there we walked by the river to Kinloch Rannoch, where we found the public toilets were in the Hotel!
It was a a damp morning with low cloud when we drove to Pitlochry via Queens view. We didn't stop at Queens view as there wouldn't have been one! Apparently when Queen Victoria first came here she thought it was named for her but it is thought it was named for the 14th centuary Queen Isabella wife of Robert the Bruce. We then headed north again this time to the campsite at Loch Morvich in the Cairngorms.
At this time of the year the campsite was fairly empty, its too late for guaranteed skiing too early for hiking. What it gave us was this wonderful deserted beach, even if we had to wrap up warmly to appreciate it, the dogs loved it, and it was right by the campsite. On this first day here we did a short way marked walk from the campsite.
Day 12, 13 and 14
Adjacent to the campsite there are two cafes, two shops and a visitor centre, whilst we were there we visited all of them. Especially recommended is the cafe on the same side of the road as the campsite. We did two three mile walks, one each day, in the area but contrived not to take photos on either. On our last day there, after the routine run on the beach (for the dogs), we left the campsite and headed for the funicular railway. On the way we took this photo of 'our' beach.
We reckoned the dogs had done enough for the day, besides they went to the top in 2005, and so left them in the van while we did a return trip to the top restaurant. When we got there it snowed! I'll let the pictures speak for themselves.
By contrast here is a similar view from 2005
We then went by the back road towards Braemar via Bridge of Brown Tomintoul Ballater and Crathie, wild camping near Balmoral's back door just across the Dee from us.
We have a friend who lives in Bearsden, Glasgow, who had recently been living in the USA, but all the time we were in Scotland she was in England. We thought she should be home around now, so we rang her from the first place we had signal, which was Braemar yes she was back and she invited us to visit that afternoon/evening. Well it was still early morning so we thought we would stop at Scone Palace or Stirling castle enroute. Both were closed! Apparently we were too early (30th March) for Scotland but Stirling Castle would be open on the 1st April. So we gently drove across the Campsiefells and arrived at our friend's mid afternoon. There was much petting of dogs and catching up to do. That evening we drove through Milngavie (remind me to tell you my one Milngalvie joke) and to the Tickled trout pub which is next to a large garden centre (Dobies). After an excellent meal we found out that we had inadvertently parked in the garden centre and locked barricades had appeared. Well we could have stayed there and got a taxi for Annie but just on the off chance I asked in the pub and yes they had keys for this frequent occurance so we were let go.
As you might know Milngalvie is not pronounced the way it looks but instead rather like 'mulguy'. So there is this tour coach full of Americans who had been told some items of dubious provenance concerning Loch Ness Monster, Haggis etc on their way around Scotland but they were now wise to him. Anyway when they got here and he told them it was pronounced 'mulguy' they were having none of it, so the guide got the driver to go off at the next large carpark and he and a couple from the coach party went into the fast food outlet "Will you tell these good people how this place is pronounced" In her best Glaswegian the wee girl said "mac-don -alds"
We carried on with our catch up and then drove through Glasgow and on the motorway back up as far as Auchterarder. This having the first open campsite we found within easy distance of Stirling. Although we hadn't started working for Alan Rogers we had been given a guide book by them and so we turned up there and found that it was hardly open either but a note said pitch up and ring this number and we will drop by. Conscious that we were going to be writing our own campsite assessments and editorial for next years guide book soon, we were anxious to compare the write up to the reality and we were disappointed to find out it hardly matched, in fact if it hadn't been for the campsite name fashioned out of wrought iron on the gates we might have concluded we were at the wrong campsite. Next morning the owner appeared and wanted to charge a lot more than was listed in the guide book, we showed him his entry. It turned out he had owned the campsite for around 6 months, had commissioned lots of rework, had even renamed it, although the renaming of the gates were a bit too far down on the must do list, and had never heard of Alan Rogers. Anyway he kindly split the difference on the site fee for the two nights and took details about Alan Rogers. We hoped all the sites we were to assess in May wouldn't be like this one.
It was a damp start to the day but we walked into Aucherarder, which is a long strip of a place, and spent most of the day there walking back to the camp site in sunshine late in the afternoon.
Stirling Castle - Open at last. Well most of it The Great Hall had just been reopened but the Royal Palace was still being renovated in 2011.
Castle Entrance and James IV's Great Hall
View to the Wallace Memorial - Inside the great Hall
Under the walls - The closed palace (Now open 2013)
The parts that were open were excellent and well worth our visit. In workshops around the castle tapestries were being hand woven for the palace's renovation which will be (is now) splendid. See for youself: www.stirlingcastle.gov.uk/home.htm. We left there intending to get to Loch Lomond but a huge detour for roadworks was in place so we ended up at Aberfoyle at tea time before going on over the Duke's pass to a wild camp a mile short of Loch Katrine at the end of Loch Achtray. Looking at the map in the evening I found that the Trossachs occupied an area of scarcely four 1 km map squares, I has no idea they were that small.
We woke in a fairy grotto with mist hiding the loch this is the view from where I gave the dogs their morning walk. The mist soon cleared and after
breakfast we drove the mile to Loch Katrine and boarded the SS Sir Walter Scott for a lake cruise. I think we had the whole range of seasons on our short cruise at one point we were the only ones on deck as the rain battered down. At other times there wasn't a place to be had on deck. There was a film crew on board so we got some extra manoeuvres so they could film departures and then could be reboarded. It is a lovely wee trip though on an historic ship.
From the Trossachs we went East alongside Loch Venachar and North on the A84 stopping for lunch/tea at Loch Lubnaig before heading along the tiny road beside Loch Voil in the hope that the parking place shown on our map beyond the end of of the lochs would make a suitable wild camp. Yes it would was the answer, but we didn't really fancy it as it was close to a farm we would have needed to go on ramps for comfort, and there wasn't anywhere for our dogs. Parts of the road were narrow and twisty and I wouldn't have liked to do the return trip in the bad weather now forcast for the morning. So on this sunny late afternoon we made our way back to the A84 and went north again. When we turned right at Loch Earnhead we were only five miles away from where we had been on day 8. Each of the many large laybys well hidden from the main road, alongside Loch Earn were filled were travellers but one of the really big ones only had travellers at one end so there was plenty of room for us.
Parking place OS57 NN445184 - layby A85 Loch Earn
It was very overcast with black clouds when we woke upin the morning. Woken by the council lorry collecting the rubbish from the layby. I have to say the travellers were very organised in this regard having last night collected all rubbish in council marked bags from the other laybys using a trailer and making one large pile for the bin men. The threatened rain didn't look far away as we set off having decided to work our way a little closer to home. In the end it developed into a widespread storm and with more to follow according to the forecast for the whole of Scotland and most of England over the next few days we decided to just drive home.
We paused a few times on our homeward trip to change drivers and once to rescue a piece of windscreen trim that had become detached at one end in the high winds and which was bashing the door. These were very high winds, in two seperate instances bicycles had been blown off cars, one had the bicycles still attached to a roof rack lying in the road. There were plenty of motercycles and cars just pulled to the side of the road. At one stop I pulled next to a wall so I could hop up and check the security of the awning and solar panel (which is just glued on).
As we made our long and difficult journey home we decided that whilst spontaneity has its place, subsequent trips would have some semblance of a plan imposed upon them. As you can see from this simplified route we certainly meandered in the middle and it was a muddle and yes March can be too early.