After a motor caravan rally near Sutton in Ashfield we are heading to Scotland again. It’s five years since we were there last and we are on a mission to visit four areas where we have not stayed overnight. I should explain; I have a map of the UK on a pin board (see photo) and mark each overnight stop with a coloured pin, some years ago I noticed that we had some empty spaces on the map. I drew circles in these areas (around a small tin lid) and marked each with a big pin. As we stay overnight in the circles the big pins are replaced with the ones marking our overnight stops. Now there are only four big pins left, all in Scotland. This was to be our dog Juno's first long trip.
Nights 1 to 4. As we had a nearly empty fuel tank on leaving Salisbury I decided to give the engine a treat and buy the expensive diesel. The trip was uneventful apart from traffic holdups on the M1 near our destination. The rally was at the C&CC site at Teversal just off the M1 it has a large park opposite, on a former coalmine, which Juno enjoyed, and there is a bus to Chesterfield which we used on the Friday.
Nights 5 and 6. On Sunday 22nd April we rejoined the motorway and headed North. The first 'gap in the map' was just above Perth but we didn't know how far towards it we would get that day. Just above Newcastle we made a snap decision and branched off towards Hawick. They have a municipal car park there with a part marked off as a free stop over for motorcaravans. Hawick was a disappointment this time around, the boy racers disturbed us and next day our favourite cafe, The Pickled Orange, was not open. I'm not sure exactly why we then went to Jedburgh, as Perth was easily reachable but it may have been because we forgot to empty the cassette at Teversal and urgently needed a campsite. The campsite at Jedburgh is within easy reach of the town, there is even a bus if you don't fancy the mile long walk.
Nights 7 and 8 Next morning we crossed the new Forth Bridge and headed to the Scone Palace C&CC site which is located at Perth racecourse.
We stayed two nights as this enabled us to visit the palace and use the park and ride into Perth. By the way don't get low on fuel on the M90, the premium grade of diesel was £1.51/litre, we only took a splash. We were lucky to get into the campsite as there was racing on and the site was crammed but they found a place for us. We hadn't managed to get to Scone Palace before even when we were in the area as we were too early for its opening eg in April 2011. The grounds are a nice mixture of formal and natural it includes a replica of the Stone of Scone, a beechwood maze and peacocks. After walking around the grounds together we took it in turns to look after Juno and visit the palace itself, well worth the visit.
We were impressed with Perth even though it rained, the M&S, Lakeland and Boots were all very large.
Night 9. After that we headed for Blairgowrie. Now our first map area was centered on Blairgowrie but although we visited there refuelled and did some shopping we didn't stay overnight, however we thought the Perth site was close enough. The next day we travelled to Tarland through the magnificent Glen Shee. We also passed Balmoral, and Doreen expressed a wish to visit it one day. We stayed at the Tarland C&CC site which was almost centered on our second area. There is a restaurant, pub and shop in the village there were also extensive roadworks which would affect our onward journey. A very nice site though.
Night 10. We drove to visit some friends at Kintore then up to Huntly and into the whisky centre of Scotland (Speyside) at Dufftown where we had the second major diversion of the day this time for an RTA. With a dull and often rainy sky we made it to our campsite, Speyside by Craigellachie C&CC In doing so we passed the Glen Fiddich, Abelour, and Macallen distilleries.
Night 11. Wet at first but a rapidly drying and brightening day as we drove first to Elgin for a Pets at Home, we had left Juno's flea and tic treatment at home. Then to the Lidl at Forres. A drive through Inverness followed which wasn't good on a Saturday especially as approaching from a different direction I allowed the sat nav to take us right through the middle. On to the shores of Loch Ness for lunch and then we turned off west just before Drumnadrochit, through Glen Urquart to our Cannich Campsite. We had intending wild camping at Dog Falls on the river Affric but by then knew that overnight parking was not allowed. After claiming a pitch we drove on to Dog Falls and found as predicted there were 'no overnight camping notices', still we had a walk around as I tried to remember when we had been there last (19th Sept 1997 in our Romahome).
Night 12. The campsite ticked our third blank spot and Doreen treated us to a nice breakfast before we left. We drove north to Beauly and had a walk around the priory and riverside. This place is mentioned a few times in our logbooks but I don't remember stopping here before. We have been based nearby at the campsite at Bunchrewe on the Beauly Firth twice before so it may just have been one of our waypoints. It was a nice place to spend a Sunday morning in the sun. Then on to Dingwall where we refuelled, had to fill up again with ordinary diesel as the good stuff seems in short supply. Along the north side of the Cromarty Firth until by Alness we headed due north to our wild camp at Bonar Bridge. This completed our blank spot part of our trip and wherever we stay now in the UK we can be no more than about 25 miles from somewhere we have stayed before.
Our discrete wild camp at Bonar Bridge
Night 13. We had to get to a bank. On Sunday when I looked at my emails I found that I had gone overdrawn on a small account I keep for eBay and other internet purchases. I purposely keep it low in case it is hacked into. So we went into Tain where I paid some money in. Later it transpired that I had gone overdrawn by the princely sum of £3, for which they charged me £8 for the unarranged overdraft. It did serve to remind me however that as I don't do internet banking on my phone or tablet when something goes wrong I need a bank branch. Tain was full of unsavoury characters in ill fitting suits who turned out to be loitering outside the sheriffs court. Two prisoner vans were parked in a side street. We didn't waste the sunshine as we recrossed Dornoch Firth to go to the sands there, later we went shopping and found Dornoch to be rather posh, and full of cut-glass english accents. We noticed many dead sea birds on the beach, gannets perhaps.
We looked around for a wildcamp ay Dornoch but having found none returned to Bonar Bridge for a second night. Having used this picturesque car park with its heated toilet twice, it's to our shame that we didn't spend any money in the village. However we treated it better than this guy who came just to have a brew, empty his toilet and fill up with water. In doing so blocked off the majority of the parking spots.
Night 14 1st May. In our planning we had decided to go no further north than Laxford Bridge then stick to the west side before going to Glasgow to visit a friend. So we set off through Lairg and onto the A838 alongside lochs Shin, Merkland, More and Stack to Laxford Bridge. For most of the trip a snow covered mountain could be seen beyond the local hills. This was Ben More Assynt with its peak at about 1000m.
When we got to Laxford Bridge we turned south until we reached the Bridge at Kylescu This is the curved one designed by Ove Arup which has won awards and is featured on the front of my OS map of the area. In 2006 the car parks on either side of the bridge were signposted 'no overnight parking' but not the viewpoint a couple of km north so this time we stopped the viewpoint first. It was very busy, so after staying a while we ventured to the other car parks to find the prohibitions removed and so we decided to stay at the picnic area below the bridge.
At this point a note about the weather. Up to now although we had had plenty of sunny days, overall it had been cold with strong winds and one or two days had been damp. May 1st was a dull day that started out sunny.
The North Coast 500. We had noticed an increase in the number of motorhomes crossing the bridge on the A894, this may be due to a published holiday route known as the 500. Basically a circular route around the coast of Scotland starting at Inverness. To the north east and south it uses reasonable sized roads, however on the western side some of the roads are very small, steep and twisty and whereas when we travelled them before we saw small camper vans we now see vans bigger than our current one on the road, and lets face it many will not heed the safety messages on the website or indeed might not have the road skills.
Night 15. The mad wee road. In 2009 during our round the coast of Britain trip, see franksblog.webnode.com/blog/coast-2007-2010/coast-part-5b-2009/ we had driven from Aird of Coigach through Lochinver to the Kylescu bridge and now we planned to do the trip in the opposite direction. Some, perhaps all, of this route is known as the mad wee road. We were a little concerned about the width of our camper van (see above) but reckoned that this early in the season it would be doable. The first couple of km on the B869 are quite tame but after that it has some steep and twisty parts that carry on as far as Nedd. Very few of the gradients are marked by the roadside but Doreen kept the OS map open and told me what to expect. At some point Juno slid off the bench seat and was kept on her feet by her harness Just after Nedd is Drumbeg and in 2009 the village shop was for sale and must have soon sold. We met the new owner today. We parked up at the viewpoint after the village and gave Juno an airing.
In 2009 we wild camped half a mile from Clashnessie and we parked up today at Clashnessie to give Juno a beach run. A few motorhomes came past, some of which were far too big for the road.
Later we looked for a campsite for tonight and liked the look of Clachtoll but there was another one further on at Achmelvich and anyway it was early in the day and sunny so we decided to go to the end of this road and go to see Loch Assynt some 10km east along the A837. Retracing our route we found that the campsite on the beach at Achmelvich did not allow dogs so we ended up at Clachtoll after all but time spent on these roads is not wasted, only one viewpoint is marked after Drumbeg but its all beautifully scenic.
At Clachtoll we did some washing but an hour after had we pegged out on our airer heavy rains arrived. The winds had been brisk so as I struggled with the washing much of it was nearly dry. The wind increased and I measured a maximum of 33 Knots. With gusts of this speed we feared for our outside silver screens so I took them off and we just used our interior curtains.
Night 16 I walked Juno on the Clachtoll beach at 06.30 and the first rain of the day came a couple of hours later. We drove along the road previously explored in sunshine and stopped at Lochinver. Decidedly damp we made our way to the parking spot at Inverkirkaig. Later when the rain had stopped I walked up the hill to the remote bookshop there. We looked at a couple of possible nightstops further along the road before finding this spot overlooking Loch Buine Moire with the mountains of Cul Mor 849m, Meall Dearg 657m with Cul Beag 769m and Stac Pollaidh 612m shown from right to left in the photo below. We looked in vain for the place we had wild camped nine years before only to find on our return home that we hadn't camped overnight in the area it must have been a lunch stop that I had failed to find.
Mountains of Inverpolly
Night 17 We left our wild camp and in much better weather drove on to Coigach for a coffee stop then around to where we had breakfast at a parking spot near Achnahaird. The wind was very strong as the photos might indicate and it was quite blustery as we went onto the nearby beach.
We did think about stopping at the Altandhu campsite on the western and hence weather side of the headland but decided instead to head back east alongside Loch Lurgainn where we stopped for a while at the Stac Pollaidh car park. When we reached the A835 we headed north again spotting a number of possible wild camps in laybys At Ledbeg we turned back south and overshot our turning on the A835, which would have resulted in us arriving at Bonar Bridge again if my navigator hadn't been alert. So a little later we arrived at a wildcamp that we had spotted earlier for a restful night once Juno and I had written some postcards.
Night 18 We looked in at Ardmair campsite intending only to have breakfast in the cafe there and make enquiries about the price of camping but somehow we booked in for two nights. I blame the breakfast. Its a short drive into Ullapool which is where we spent most of the day. bought CalMac hopscotch ticket to take us off Skye to Mallaig then on and off Mull.
Night 19 Ardmair. Spent day in Ullapool again. In the evening there was a storm which largely missed us but it got very black and windy but quiet by midnight.
Night 20 May Bank Holiday Spent sometime considering options as the forecasts for Wednesday and Friday, the planned ferry days were horrible with high winds etc. So we decided to cut our losses on the west side and go back east. Calmac refunded our tickets and we set off southeast on the A835 towards Garve found this overnight spot with toilets by the river Blackwater.
We then embarked on a 'strenuous' walk of a couple of miles both sides of the river between Silver and Wade bridges. The right hand bank going downstream was narrow and twisty in places. The opposite bank was easier walking until the last three quarters of a mile when it climbed high above the river twice.
Night 21 A dull start with some drizzle but by the time we reached the Cromarty Firth near Balblair on the Black Isle it had cleared up. We went into an RSPB hide and saw an osprey on a post. I have to say if it wasn't for two elderly ladies giving a running commentary on what they could see we would have missed the osprey. We also saw a heron and several lapwings. Later we drove up above S Sutor point. I was anxious to do this as in 2009 this is one of the very few parts of the coast that we missed. We also found out about the Nigg ferry which we had failed to find on that occasion, it still runs, but only in high summer. After walking around Cromarty and looking at camping in the town we went back to a wild camping spot by the side of the firth that we had noted earlier. unusually it contained a car and caravan.
Night 22 Glenmore Our plan today was to head for the C&CC site near Chanonary point to look for Dolphins, we knew we couldn't book in until 1pm so we parked up near the beach went for a walk and had a pint. We got to the site a few minutes after reception opened to find a log jam and the site fully booked.
So we now needed a plan B, and while we thought about that we drove to the point and looked for dolphins. Ideally you arrive about an hour after low water. We were a bit early but we settled down to wait and eventually we saw dolphins. By then we had decided to do some food shopping in Inverness and head for the Glenmore campsite in the Cairngorms. As we drove away from the Coop, Doreen tried to find out what time reception was open until, it being already 5pm. The number for the campsite turned out to be Camping in the Forest's central booking and before she knew what was happening they were taking a booking from us. Nae bother really but I wish they wouldn't pressure you like that. Anyway a little after 6pm we arrived. On our way Doreen told me how much she had spent for a non-electric pitch. I said are you sure that you don't want electric its about 300m up and last time we were there it was chilly and the overnight temperature was due to be about 5ºC. So when we got there we paid £6.15 a night extra for electricity! That night we looked at pamphlets and found that dogs were no longer allowed up the funicular railway nor even in the carpark at the nearby highland wildlife park. These are both things we have taken dogs to before.To be honest I wasn't too bothered about the funicular but we had really wanted to see the polar bears at the wildlife park.
Night 23 Glenmore. We did a small walk then we had lunch at the Red Squirrel Cafe. During the walk we introduced Juno to the water, she hadn't been to keen on the sea but seemed more content with small rivers and Loch Morlich.
The cafe has feeders right outside the windows and after a variety of birds had entertained us a red squirrel took over the branch not six feet away. It spent twenty minutes there, it would hang upside down from the branch by its tail and back feet, get the nut and then spin around to the upright position to eat it.
These photos were just taken with a phone
We bought a larger ball for Juno took it to the beach and she burst it! Still, she had excellent ball control while it lasted.
Night 24 Doreen's Birthday We went on a much longer walk all around Loch Morlich finishing up at the Red Squirrel cafe for lunch and then Doreen went to view reindeer whilst I looked after Juno and bought her a bit of antler to eat. Later that night went to the Pinemartin bar (next door to the cafe) for a listen to the live music whilst having some wee birthday drinkies, by the time we left it wasn't her birthday anymore!
Night 25 It rained in the night and Doreen's back was very bad in the morning. We drove into Aviemore parked up and went on a little excursion in the sunshine with a steam train on the Strathspey Railway. We were were stung £1.10 for a small packet of crisps in the buffet car though. We had fish and chips in Aviemore and then headed for the RSPB Osprey centre near Boat Of Garten. There you can wild camp for two nights, so we did. We were too late for the Osprey centre that day so went on a little walk of our own devising.
Night 26 Rained all night but by the time the centre opened the rain had stopped. We saw an Osprey on her nest using binos and also on CCTV at the centre. That morning before the centre was open the Osprey had returned from a successful fishing trip. In the afternoon we did the two loch walk (Garten and Mallachie), golden eye ducks were on the menu but we failed to see them. The pamphlet also spoke of a magnificent wood ant nest but this was very much in decline.
Nights 27 and 28 We drove to Balmoral, this should have been an easy and spectacular drive but two bridges were closed after Corgarff and the detour took us almost back to Tarland. As a result we arrived at the castle at about 1pm. The grounds and exterior of the castle were very fine and we marvelled that every year all the flowers and vegatables have to be ready for the Queen who arrives at the beginning of August. The only internal part of the castle that you are allowed to go into is the ballroom and that, said Doreen, was a disappointment, she was expecting something sumptious, it was just a large room with lots of photographs and bookcases. As we were about to leave for Perth we discovered that a coachdriver had found and handed in Doreen's purse. We were very thankful. So back to Perth for another two night stay. Next day we went by the park and ride bus to Perth. Arriving early and having missed breakfast we went to a small cafe where Juno was made most welcome. She even got a free sausage served up on a plate.
We wandered around Perth, Doreen was looking for a tartan wallet for her iPhone, she was offered a Saltaire one a couple of times but no tartan one was to be had. Later looking to have a coffee we went into a cafe that had several dogs inside. We were first brought a fluffy rug for Juno and offered a human and a doggie menu. A little later a woman followed her dog in. She said that she hadn't intended to come in but the dog insisted. When asked what she would like she said no idea ask the dog.
Night 29 It was a gentle run in the sunshine to Bearsden to the north west of Glasgow where we met with our friend Annie who is not very well at the moment so we only stayed the one night in her car parl before going on to another friend the next day.
Night 30 Andy and Morag live at Longriggend with their collie Amber. It was nice to be able to talk 'Collie' to such a knowledgeable pair and it tutns out that some of Juno's behavior which we thought odd is just normal collie traits.
Night 31 to 33 Kathy is an old friend of Doreen but they had lost touch many years ago and only found each other through facebook. We had a mission to watch the royal wedding at their farmhouse near Durham. We also went to the Beamish open air museum.
Night 34 We broke the journey back to home by stopping at Breedon Priory near East Midlands airport. A few years ago it was a thriving centre based around a nursery, now the garden centre has closed and all the remains is a golf course and some of the shops which of course dont get the trade that they used to enjoy