Adventure Capital

We had spent the night at the Dunnet Bay, caravan and motorhome site, which is the new name for the caravan club, again very regimented, and not cheap, but as the warden downloaded some important documents and printed them out for me I can’t complain too much.

First stop of the day was the Dunnet Distillery, home of Rock Rose Gin, and some more purchases for the Gin shelf back in Hampshire.

The East coast doesn’t have the same appeal as the West coast, and so the miles just rolled on and soon enough the sights of oil rigs, drilling platforms and jack up barges filled the skyline towering out of the Cromarty Firth, we detoured into the Black Isle for a spot of lunch looking out to sea at Cromarty.

Back on the road, we side stepped Inverness and headed straight to Aviemore and the Cairngorms National Park. More supplies were sourced from the Cairngorms Brewery before coffee and cake in Aviemore. It would seem that the town is a magnet for campervans, not just VW’s but every manner of vans, custom builds, hippie wagons, and full-on adventure trucks with kayaks and mountain bikes strapped to the outside and no doubt North Face and Rab jackets on the inside.

As it was to be our last night on the road, we found a nice secluded spot to camp in one of the Forestry Commission picnic sites, tucked in amongst the pines trees with the wildlife for company……and the other 6 campervans who were also attracted to this spot.

The owls could be heard all night and other things that went bump in the night against the van, presumably red deer.

Up at the Cairngorm basecamp, we were the first travellers up the funicular railway for a brew at the top and the outside thermometer reading a balmy zero degrees, we didn’t stay long.

Last stop was Braemar and a lovely drive through the national park to get there, hardly seeing another car, with the exception of the Porsche 911 owners club doing a photo shoot at the Lecht Ski area, when they check through their prints they might see that a grey T5 photobombed them.

Onwards to Aberdeen, and some home cooking and proper beds with some time with the family before heading home.

The last great wilderness.

Monday 10th April.

 

Our timing couldn’t have been better. Today was to be the first day that the Cape Wrath ‘ferry’ was to run this year. The only way to get to Cape Wrath is by the ferry or a long walk in from the West coast. It is without doubt the last great wilderness of Britain, 108 square miles of moorland and dramatic cliffs where the North and West coast of Scotland meet, there’s no land mass north of here until you reach the artic. Nobody lives here, only the sheep and the deer. The Royal Navy use it for shore bombardment, The RAF launch thousand pounders into the peat and the Army give it a good battering with artillery and mortars.

‘John the Ferryman’ takes you across the Kyle of Durness in his boat, and he’s been doing it for the last 33 years, ask him what he does in the winter, and he’ll tell you he’s a “Converter…..” In Cape Wrath speak that means he converts Guinness into urine.

Stuart is your guide (he also does the fencing, a bit of game keeping, road maintenance and quite a dab hand at salmon fishing by all accounts), and gives a well informed commentary for the 90 min trundle in the minibus up to the Cape, never getting out of third gear due to the road conditions.

John (a different John) runs the Ozone cafe situated next to the Cape Wrath lighthouse, and sells good strong tea, and slabs of cake, and boasts that he accepts all currencies.

After another 90 min trundle across the moor and a more relaxed low water crossing of the Kyle, we’re heading East again for a campsite at Dunnet Bay.

Tomorrow we have an appointment at the Rock Rose distillery.

Here comes the rain!

We knew the rain was coming, so an early start and pack up as didn’t want a wet awning.

Crossing the Kylesku bridge and the obligatory photo opportunity, there, in the bridge car park is a Memorial dedicated to the men of the submarine squadron who operated the midget submarines and many of them were taken by the deep.

Still heading North, the rain came and with it the mist, we hardly passed another car and the houses and farmsteads were becoming few and far between, very much a case of  the last wilderness in Britain and not a place to get lost or stray from the road.

Arriving in Durness and it’s quite a little town, seeking shelter from the rain we took refuge in Cocoa Mountain, a nice little coffee shop located in the craft village, great coffee and good food, with a claimed ‘Best Hot Chocolate in the country’.

With the rain now being whipped by the wind, it was a case of either get to the campsite and stay in the van all day or drive on and return to the campsite later that evening.

Setting the compass to East we headed to John o’ Groats to get the mandatory photo, running along the north coast with fantastic beaches that wouldn’t look out of place in North Cornwall complete with surfers, but guessing they’re all wearing 5mm suits or just plain crazy.

At John o’ Groats, the place was swarming with NC500 motorhomes, coats and hats donned for the photo, at least it’s free compared to the matching signpost at Lands End and it’s masked bandits charging for everything.

Back in the van with the heater on full, back West again with a stop off at Dunnet Head as the most northerly point in mainland Britain, we were hoping to see the puffins, but with the wind being so strong the cliffs were out of the question.

Back to Sango Sands campsite for the night (can recommend the steak pie at the Sango Sands Oasis), we got buffeted all night by the wind from the west, so feel sorry for the big white boxes that were right on the cliff top pitches and more sorry for those brave souls in tents especially when the marble sized hail stones came down at 4am.

Off for an Ice Cream

Leaving Applecross we headed around the more accessible peninsula, passing the MoD buildings at Sand and the Rona noise range, but no submarines doing trials today.

Picking up the North Coast 500 route with a few others we headed down through Glen Torridon with it’s spectacular views and a known nesting site of Golden Eagles but again not a sight just a few buzzards on the thermals.

Following the shoreline of Loch Maree and into Gairloch for a spot of lunch looking over the golden sandy bay there, it would seem that every shop now sells NC500 t-shirts.

Next stop was Loch Ewe and the first time I’ve seen it from the shore as opposed to looking at the shore whilst visiting the NATO fuelling jetty. There’s a few memorials dotted around Poolewe as this was the setting off point for the WW2 Atlantic convoys and Russian convoys, it makes interesting reading as Loch Ewe was one of the most heavily defended places in the UK at the time with a heavy RN presence.

With the dark brooding mass that is An Teallach prominent for the rest of the drive along Little Loch Broom

One of those brown signs says “Falls” we stop to have a look and come across the Corrieshalloch Gorge, a deep gorge complete with a wobbly suspension bridge (stop bouncing!!) and a viewing platform, you can see from the lack of water flowing down the falls how little snow fall there has been this year.

Our destination can be seen as we descend into Ullapool, the sun’s out, the bikers are out and the Ice Cream shop is open and doing a roaring trade, just around the corner is Ardmair Point campsite and again we’ve got a waterside pitch looking out across Loch Canaird with only the Islands of Lewis and Harris blocking the path to Newfoundland.

Through the pass to Applecross.

Today was a day of hidden gems, firstly the village of Lochcarron, right on the Loch side, with little coffee shops, cafes, an ice cream parlour, I’m sure that come the summer, the place will be packed but right now, it’s great.

There has been much wrote about ‘Bealach na Ba’ or ‘The pass of the cattle’ which leads you to Applecross, the neigh sayers, telling you not to attempt it, that you have to be a confident driver, in reality, yes there are some steep drops and a few hairpins, but ‘The Italian Job’ this isn’t. Earl did it with ease, and we were greeted with a fantastic view from the top, looking back across to Skye and the Cullins.

We’d booked ahead, for a pitch at the ‘Visit Applecross’ campsite, and were lucky to take the last electric hook up and hard standing. Only the day before the farmer had to tow out a motorhome which had got stuck on a grass pitch.

Applecross village has a new bar/cafe called the Junction, and has the best chocolate orange cake I’ve ever tasted. The other gem is the walled garden, which the community has started to reclaim from the undergrowth and now has a bistro with locally grown produce. We’re definitely coming back here to sample the menu.

 

Over the sea to Skye.

Arriving on Skye via the ferry from Mallaig, you immediately see the skyline dominated by the Cullins, looming ever upwards shrouded in cloud and mist. We had decided to wild camp for the first night and as usual the VW T5 Forum came up trumps with members recommendations about where to camp. We found a delightfully quiet spot at Tokavaig Bay, sheltered from the wind with the waves lapping at the shore only a few metres away and only the wildlife for company.

The next day we were meeting friends and headed for the Fairypools, the turquoise waters were stunning, the horizontal rain, not so much. Back into the van to dry off and over the hill to Carbost. The Old Inn is a real gem as is the community coffee shop which has public toilets and showers attached to it. Lunch was followed by a tour of the Talisker Distillery, now neither of us are whiskey fans, and the taster at the end of the tour confirmed this, we’re sticking to Rum and Gin (more on Gin to come…..)

Home for the night was to be the Skye Camping and Caravanning Club site, good facilities, but all a bit to regimented for our liking, a mile bimble down the road brought us to the Edinbane Inn, another gem of a pub with great food and local beers, the venison burger gets a thumbs up from me.

Uig was calling and a wee purchase in the Skye Brewing Company shop for the ale shelf back in Hampshire. Across to Staffin and then down the NW coast past the ‘Old Man of Storr’ and it’s crowds all waiting for their ascent and selfie.

Heading across the Skye bridge at Kyle of Lochalsh, a nod of the head to the guys at BUTEC and a top up of diesel, we headed for a lunch stop looking across Loch Duich and Eilean Donan Castle, we were even joined by a pair of European Otters.

Next stop Applecross.

Into the Highlands

Back into Oban on the ferry and a pitstop into Tesco for diesel, we’re heading for Fort William….us and the rest of the convoy from Mull.

Driving through the Glencoe and Nevis range ski area, there’s the white scars on the slopes showing the remains of this seasons snowfall. The drive through Glen, never ceases to amaze with those 3000ft plus Munro’s looming large from the valley floor. Every lay by has tour coaches parked up with camera wielding tourists snapping every second.

Along Loch Leven and Loch Linnhe we turn up following Glen Nevis to our night time stop over.

Growing up in the 80’s and being in the Navy, quite nicely prepares you for the more austere of Campsite facilities, not so here in at Glen Nevis Caravan and Camping Park, nestled in the foothills of Ben Nevis, it’s a big site, but the showers have endless hot water, they’re heated, clean and Radio 2 is played inside the shower block.

A brisk 4KM walk into Fort William to meet with friends who have had to leave their Campervan behind in Cornwall due to engine trouble, finishes with a wee dram.

The following morning we paid our respects to the fallen, at The Commando Memorial, and read the touching epitaph’s some of old soldiers, and some from the more recent Afghan conflict.

With time to spare before the ferry from Malliag, we called in at the Glenfinnan Memorial, behind the visitor centre is the real attraction, the Glenfinnian Viaduct, best know to those who watch the Harry Potter films, as the Hogwarts Express steams across it.

What came as a shock was the White Sands of Morar, white sandy beaches that would not look out of place in the Seychelles or the Caribbean!

Onto the ferry at Mallaig, and Earl was given pride of place.

Next stop Isle of Skye.

Tales from a small island…..Mull.

Catching the first ferry of the day out of Oban, we headed to Mull. We had planned for two nights and booked The Sheilings Campsite right next to the ferry terminal, as we couldn’t check in until later we set off on a magical tour of the south of the island.

Most of Mull’s roads are single track, but with passing places a plenty. If you see one of the coaches in your mirror, it’s best to pull over and let them pass, they’re not hanging around!

Sea otters, highland cattle, hawks and deer, but the sea eagles remained illusive for the two days. We ran up north and called in to Tobermory (What’s the story Balamory), and can recommend the ‘Mishnish’ pub for good beer including their own brew and ‘Cafe Fish’ for the seafood platter which has to seen to be believed.

All in all, we loved Mull, the views and the beaches were incredible and such a relaxed place.

Next stop Fort William.

Heading North!

T-5 hours and I’m still fitting some last touches to the interior, just a couple of hooks for towels. Fully packed and heading north for an overnighter in Preston for bed and board and a beer with the family.

Crossing the border with Loch Lomond in our sights for a spot of lunch, but with so many crowds we didn’t stay long. Turning off and heading east towards Loch Fyne and Inverary, we passed through the cloud base.

With Oban in sight, it was a case of finding a wild camp spot and something to eat. A few recommends from the VW T5 forum needed checking out, but new council rules meant that the beach at Ganavan bay was out of the question. Down the Gallanach Road we found our spot for the night, and settled in before the ferry to Mull the next day.

Proving hard to find.

We had set our sights high when it came to getting Earl, who incidentally was going to be called ‘Daisy’.

Autotrader, eBay, Gumtree, VW dealers, we searched them all….High line,low milage, air con, tailgate and didn’t really want white. Turns out not the easiest to find so a reassess of the important stuff……air con, low milage, tail gate.

What we found in Kent in the shadow of the Dartford crossing was….Earl! A Startline, low milage, not white, air con and barn doors, boxes ticked then!!!! One owner from new, still under warranty and after a good clean (after the horse owning 1 owner) the grey van looked good.