The Hunt for Nessie

Avoided Loch Ness on the way North, so took a minor detour down the quieter Eastern side on our way South.

Have seen plenty of fatties wallowing around in the shallows but held out hope of spotting the fabled beast herself whilst here. Most large creatures near the shore here either get rolled back into the water or slaughtered. Either of these methods would save the NHS millions or help to feed the hungry!

Had a good look around and just like millions before us, saw absolutely no Nessie.

Settled instead for a slab of salmon on the BBQ and an overnight stop on the Loch Ness shore

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Dunrobin Castle and the Moray Firth

Contrary to opinion, Dunrobin is not a home for retired thieves! The Earl of Sutherland, however, has clearly amassed a fair wad of cash over the years. Continuing to supplement his considerable expenses by collecting fees from the hoi poloi to have a look around his very impressive hoose! Yes, Hoose! He also has a collection of angry birds with sharp beaks and claws that do their best to keep young children inside vehicles!

No chance of parking our 20 year old wagon here without risk of a night in the dungeon or a beheading so pottered off a bit further. Our ‘park wherever you fancy’ app came up trumps again. This time on the banks of the Moray Firth to watch the seals have bit of a play. Unbelievable!
Quick stop in a campsite at Hopetown on the way through

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Dunnett Head and John O’Groats

Turns out that John’s Goaty bits are just the furthest point from Lands End in Cornwall. Furthest point North on mainland UK is Dunnett Head. Diary note for future quiz comps! Weather Gods said no to anything other than mist, Cheers to the maps app for location!

Box ticked up here, time to head South

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Far North Scotland – Talmine and Halladale

So after the Highland Games hillarity, time to head North again. Not a heap of North left before we get to the big blue thing now. The weather again continued to impress as the roads got steadily tighter. Even found a cheeky beach to break out our deck chairs and the drone. One more night of free camping before we need to park up, plug stuff in and do the water in/out routine.

Stopped off at a place called something like Kyle’s Tongue! Didn’t get licked but had a wander around another castle.

Found a quiet spot overlooking the ocean for the night. Quiet that is before a couple of grubby Campervans full of Frogs decided to extract some sort of revenge for Agincourt or Brexit by gobbing off and discussing Appellation d’origine contrôlée way past our bedtime! Not unlike Brexit or Agincourt, the Frogs were gone early in the morning and we wandered down to the beach for a walk with the sheep. The well publicised midges joined us, so we headed back to the van for brekky.

No mobile reception in this part of the world, searching for campsites somewhat tricky. Rocked up to a suitable looking place as the owner checked for bookings. Apparently, the single motorhome on site didn’t mean they were full! Handy on-site pub too!

Running out of North Coast now, off to see some bloke called grumpy goat tomorrow!

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Highland Games in Lochinver

Had no idea that we could make it this far North. Loose goal now is to complete a clockwise loop around the very top of Scotland before a scamper back down the East Coast to Edinburgh. The weather is being distinctly unscottish! Beautiful days and incredible landscapes. Pinched this from the lonely planet! Scotland’s vast and melancholy soul is here: an epic land with a stark beauty that indelibly imprints the hearts of those who journey through the mist and mountains, rock and heather. Nuff said!

Stopped off in Ullapool for a food stop and ablutions in Tesco. Tesco membership card providing a handy discount for one of these purposes whilst avoiding the wrath of Jackie by using the flushable facilities! Also snagged some smoked trout from a local smokehouse. Looking forward to that. Noticed a banner on the way out of town advertising Highland Games in Lochinver. Map says only about 60km away, so off we trot. Early in the trip we found an app that listed handy, (And free!), spots to park the bus overnight. First come, first served arrangement that has been awesome so far. Looks like Lochinver has a wee spot just on the Harbour. Giddy up and off we go..

The harbour parking spot not only has just enough room for us to squeeze into but is right opposite the pub and about 100m from the games field. Don’t mind if we do!

Morning arrives with the not so gentle hoot of bagpipes warming up and a steady stream of traffic arriving for the games. Much pomp and ceremony as the Chieftain arrives to open the day’s excitement.

Turns out that Highland Games isn’t just about a bunch of large blokes lobbing heavy stuff around. Highland dancing involving mainly brightly dressed lasses of assorted ages leaping amongst swords. A fly casting event involving mainly posh looking blokes wearing tweed jackets and kilts waving their rods around in public. Various track and field events from egg and spoon racing. High jump with some very suspect looking landing mats. Long jump with a handy horse box just after the landing area in the sand! Looked like the 400m track had been prepped by a small herd of hungry herbivores. Many of the athletes in these events took part in whatever attire they chose before brekky! Kilts, skirts, barefoot or workboots! Seb Coe style laptimes unlikely here!

The large blokes took part in a series of lobbing heavy things around events! Cannon balls used as shot put and seemingly stuck onto sticks. Weights that looked more suited for securing boats in the harbour rather than lobbing about were used for distance and height events. Utter madness but awesome to watch. Finale was the lads chucking a telegraph pole up in the air and trying to flip it over. Again super impressive and watched with great enthusiasm, particularly by the ever noisier cohorts in the beer tent!

Much fun had! Looks like a second night in our harbour digs tonight!

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Malaig, The Isle of Skye and Gairloch

We had no real plans on this trip except, relax and enjoy! Van working perfectly, suitable supermarkets generally available, so deciding where to go is the hardest decision of the day. North was the obvious choice from the beginning but sticky out bits on the left side of the map kept looking interesting. Places like Harris and Lewis in the Outer Hebrides are only a ferry ride away, but peak season availability and British Rail style reliability raises the very real possibility of being stuck there.

Took the drive from Port William to Mallaig to have a closer look. Sadly the weather meant the close look wasn’t much further than the bonnet of the truck! Zero places to park overnight in Mallaig and ferries mostly cancelled so turned around. Finding parking spots for a 6m motorhome is always entertaining when there is barely enough room for 2 pushbikes to pass. Found this place with a shitty view and got some dinner on!

Awoke the next morning to a new day, bright sunshine and new plans.

The Isle of Skye has a handy bridge avoiding the annoying ferries and any risk of post meal review sessions, so off we go again. 100 mile detours are generally annoying but not whilst we weave gently through mountains and valleys of pure beauty. Avoided the crowds at Loch Ness searching for a floating log and turned left at Inveraray. Places to stop along these routes are limitless, including this handy harbour for a gentle amble and a bite to eat.

Soon enough we were over the bridge, further North and further West than either of us had ventured in the UK. Predictably, the island was summer holiday busy, B&Bs and restaurants booked out weeks ago. Headed half way up the coast and set up our travelling restaurant for the night at Portee. Didn’t fancy the look of the boat tour on offer so settled on a pre dinner walk about town before putting the chef back to work in the kitchen.

Headed North again in the morning to a place called Staffin. Assumed it was retirement home for poorly educated recruitment and HR types! Further North around Uig and the top of Skye then a gentle sheep avoiding game back to the Bridge.

Fluid levels in our travelling hotel starting to look dicey. Drinking water levels now outweighed by the other variety. Hot shower and mains plug in high on the agenda. Campsite, Sands at Gairloch filled the brief.

Ullapool next…

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Lady Jacqueline of Glencoe!

Took the road out of Appin and continued North towards the highlands. We had always planned a visit to Jackie’s title heritage in this part of the world.

Spent an our or so enjoying Jackie’s sprawling estate. Awesome conservation effort

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Edinburgh and beyond…..

Hotel bang in the middle of the city. Bags dropped off, bearings found, so off for a wander and a sing song in one of the local pubs! Too late for dinner so crisps and beer had to suffice!

Woke up bright and early, perhaps a little dusty and croaky from all the singing but excited to be picking up the van today. Before hopping on a local bus to Haddington, bags and Bear in tow, we had an early lunch in another local establishment – Angus beef pie with chips and of course the local speciality, Haggis, Neets and tatties, served with a whiskey gravy, DELICIOUS!

Then a hop onto a local bus to Haddington, a lovely little town 30 mins south of Edinburgh to meet the van owner in Tesco car park, sure enough 3:00 pm sharp with met our van and it was love at van site!

Quick shuffle from East to West Scotland with a gentle blast past Glasgow. Booked a camp site in Largs to suss out the truck before braving the wild camping that followed. Met a local lass romping around the place in the morning.

Enough if that now, off we go into the wilds. still can’t get that bloody song out of my head….

You’ll take the high road and I’ll take the low road,
And I’ll be in Scotland afore ye.
Where me and my true love will never meet again,
On the bonnie, bonnie banks of Loch Lomond.

Loch Lomond it was then before we got told to move along by the local rangers! Broad Scottish harder to understand than a rare Swahili dialect, but the no overnight parking message came through loud and clear! Honeymoon Ridge sounds cute and was. Three handy motorhome sized spaces just off the road. Trotted up the hill for a pre dinner stroll, then broke out the BBQ and got stuck into a doorstop sized slab of salmon. All good until around dusk when we had our first midge encounter. We had been forewarned about these clouds of Scottish terrorists and hid in our van!

Early start the next day, midges still in bed so headed North. Took the long route round via Oban. Stopped off at a handy roadside stop for a bite, then again a bit further for a shoofty around an ancient castle

Loch Etive next, right on the bank.

You can park overnight in Scotland, pretty much anywhere that says don’t. Best of all, free! Food and fluids dictate the number of days. Tiny, gas powered fridge on board good for 3-4 days worth of stuff plus almost unlimited tinned/dried is awesome. Sizeable fresh water tank also good for at least 4 days. Cassette thingy under the dunny is somewhat more restrictive. Supermarkets, pubs etc all have handy toilets but the ’ahem’, liquid waste is pretty much 3 days max, even with the ban on Mr Whippy and his antisocial chums! Water also getting low so checked into a camp site called Creagans Station where we showered and did all the necessary stuff to ensure a comfortable next few days of free camping! There was also a fabulous old pub within walking distance where we enjoyed a couple of drinks and scoffed some fish and chips.

Nothing beats the freedom of being able to camp any where and wake up in different and beautiful locations everyday and then just going and stopping when you feel like it!

Heading off towards the highlands now ….

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1st Class train Kings Cross to Edinburgh – Shittish Rail style

We had been looking forward our trip to Scotland for months. 1st class Train booked well in advance, heaps cheaper than flights, plus no farting around with check in queues, baggage or getting to and from airports. 

Waved cheerio to Nic at West Ham and hopped onto the tube for an easy run to Kings Cross. Rocked up just over an hour early to find hordes of people looking gormlessly at the departures board. Saw 12pm Edinburgh Up there and wandered off for coffee. No need for snacks, didn’t want to suppress the appetite in advance of the awesome looking first class food menu on the train.

12pm departure gently makes is way across towards the left hand side of the board, then around 11.30, disappears! No announcement, just nothing on the board. Bugger. Queue at the ticket/info counter looked insane so took a stroll to the 1st class lounge for answers. A couple of hundred other passengers clearly had the same idea and weren’t getting any help from the fat controller at the desk, telling irate passengers that he didn’t know what was happening and hiding behind a face mask. Given that the stroppiest were still waiting for the 11am train, our prospects of a luxury journey North were heading South rapidly. 

Eventually, the fat controller gave us an option, head to Euston and jump on a train hoping for a seat or wait for more news. 12.15 announcement cancelling the 12 O’clock service answered that one so off we went to Euston. 10 mins walk later, Euston Station is heaving with bodies waiting for platform numbers to appear against their chosen escape route. 1.30 Glasgow service is ours, change at Carlisle. 

Every time a platform number appeared on the board it was mayhem. Something akin to the start of the London Marathon with luggage! Several hundred people racing to snag a seat. Didn’t fancy our chances from the back of the pack, so took a strategic position near the platforms.

Platform 6 flashes up next to the Glasgow Service! Holy shit! People being knocked over. Bodies, suitcases and hats flying all round us, no worries, going to apply for suitcase rolling championships if it ever catches on. Gold and Silver for us in this one! Carriage K, 1st class, don’t mind if we do. Popped the bags in the luggage area and parked our arses into a couple of unreserved seats.

Every carriage on the train was then rammed full of passengers. Including people sitting on the floor for the next 4.5 hours. Train declassified, no tickets required, sit or stand wherever you like. Getting from A to B on Sri Lanka trains was more civilised! Train too full for carriage service or the shitty little shop on board to open.

Given the discomfort of most others on board, we were quietly happy to have seats and enjoyed the journey.

Carlisle came all to soon with the added joy of several hundred people jumping onto an already packed train. Wow, thought the first leg was busy? Only an hour an a half on this one and we were swept along in the tsunami of bodies onto the streets of Edinburgh. 

Not the experience we imagined, will see how the bean counters at LNER unravel this one..

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Charing

Not Mum’s House or Charing! Leeds Castle a couple of villages away!

Last time we were here, it was for Mum and Roy’s wedding 3 years ago! Now that the worst fears of Chinese Lung Disease have subsided, visitors are welcome again and neighbours invited.

J4x & Bear coming was the perfect excuse to gather friends and family who rallied to the cause during lockdown.

It was touted as an Aussie BBQ. If a bloke with English/Italian heritage, a set of tongs and an Aussie Passport counts, that is good enough for me. Several gallons of Pimms, 4 Kilos of pork loin, a few salads and a stack of sausages later, off we go! Mum chimed in with enough trifle to feed half of Kent and some vegetarians brought lettuce and other stuff with no nutritional value.

Much fun had. Off back to Essex then Scotland

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