Days 21 to 23: Isle of Mull

After a lovely walk along the coast at Ardnamurchan, we set off for the ferry at Kilchoan to head across to Tobermory on the Isle of Mull.

We were looking forward to spending a few days exploring the island, of which I have happy memories from a childhood holiday the best part of 50 years before.

We arrived early at the ferry port at Kilchoan so we were first in the queue for the drive on–drive off ferry.

This time Martha was a bit more relaxed from the start. We stayed in the van again and we were quickly across to Tobermory.

We had been offered hospitality from a couple of friends but, by bad timing, I arrived the same morning as one of them left for the mainland on a long-standing family visit, so in the end we headed straight across to Calgary Bay, where Fiona and Colin Brunton had offered us a place to park up. And what a park up it was! Hook up, water, views over the bay, guided walks of the area and lovely meals – as well as the chance to do washing and have a proper shower. I felt truly spoiled. Colin also had a look at the van and confirmed that the brakes needed attention (the light had been flickering on and off for a day or so) but reassured me that they were not unsafe. This was just as well as there was no prospect of getting them fixed on the island – at least not that week! So I arranged to have them done later in Glasgow but it was good to know they would last out.

We had a lovely relaxed day. We went for a couple of walks with Fiona and their dog Ben (Otter’s new best friend) – over the beach, through the Sculpture woods and round the castle, which was to be our regular walk each morning we were there, plus a lovely afternoon walk through the woods at Cuin. We then went to the wonderful store in Dervaig which sold everything you could imagine and many things I didn’t expect. I had never seen humous in a jar for instance – an excellent idea for the van! But mostly it was just lovely to have a day where I hardly drove at all and just chilled out.

We started our second day on Mull with an early morning walk, again exploring the beach, the woods and the castle, with Fiona and Ben. The castle was a lovely old place, with wonderful views over the bay. It had previously been in Fiona’s family and was now being renovated with help from family photos, to restore it to its former glory. It even came complete with its own ‘secret garden’.

Then it was off to explore the south side of Mull. Fiona had recommended we head for Ardalanish, where there was a great beach and a weaving shed, so we set off, taking the long route down the west coast and round Mull’s only munro, Ben More, to Bunessan. The scenery was stunning and the day warm and sunny – the last as it turned out before the weather turned.

From Bunessan, we headed off south to the tiny hamlet of Ardalanish. The beach did not disappoint. Vast and pretty much deserted (once the group of 30 hikers had left!), it had silver sands and pretty coloured rocks. Not to mention plenty of parkour opportunities. We had a lot of fun there.

The weaving shed was fascinating. When I arrived they were just starting to weave cloth from wool from their own Hebridean flock, so I stayed and watched the great looms at work for a while before getting myself a home-made bridie (similar to a pastie) and an ice cream to take back for lunch in the van. We never saw the Hebridean sheep but we did meet some very fine Scottish Blackface rams along the way.

From Ardanalish, we headed to the end of the island to Fionnphort, where we waved at the small island of Iona across the water, before heading back round the eastern coast road towards Calgary. The Oban ferry was just coming in as we passed through Craignure, a much bigger boat (and longer route) than the one we had taken.

All along this road are signs warning of Otters crossing. I kept a careful look out all the way, hoping to catch sight of one, but no luck. We did see a Golden Eagle, swooping down behind the forest edge, its huge wingspan making it unmistakeable and very dramatic. But the only things that crossed the road were the usual sheep, highland cows and a rather incongruous peacock, who seemed rather lost!

Next day we were heading back to the mainland to continue our trip down the west coast. After a final walk with Fiona and Ben, we said our goodbyes and headed off to Fishnish via Tobermory again and the last bit of the Mull coast around the north east corner.

By the time we reached the ferry the wind had picked up and it was a choppy ride over to Lochaline.

This part of the coast is tricky to navigate. It becomes very convoluted and roads do not always follow the coast line. In the end, with time curtailed by the need to get to Glasgow for our garage appointment, I decided to follow the marked Argyll coastal route via the tiny Corran ferry and head from there down to Oban. But first we explored the in and out road up to Drimnin.

It was a wild and windy day so we didn’t see much but it was a pretty run. Between Lochaline and Drimnin we came across the Clach na Criche or Boundary Stone which according to legend marked the border between Pictish and Gaelic lands and was said to grant wishes to any who could pass through the hole without touching the sides. I didn’t try – I could barely stand up in the wind at this point!

We made our way back to Lochaline and then on towards Corran. After the short ferry crossing, we stopped briefly near Onich for a woodland walk to celebrate clocking 2000 miles and a few moments of relative dry.

Reaching Oban was something of a culture shock after the quiet of the highlands and islands. We arrived at the beginning of rush hour and it was a relief to get through and get on along the open road again. We were heading down to Tarbert and Campbeltown but it had already been a long day’s drive, so we stopped for the night beside the lovely Crinan canal at Cainbaan. It was wild, wet and windy but at least safely away from trees or cliff tops!

Day 20: To the most westerly point

We moved on from our layby stopever early so as not to get in the way of local dog walkers. The little beach opposite as at high tide again (low tide had been 2am!) so we headed off for our walk a little way along the coast to Camusdarach, which had been highly recommended. It did not disappoint.

It did take some finding. The beach is well back through a long stretch of dunes but we arrived to find it deserted and, even at high tide, plenty big enough for a fun morning leg stretch.

After an hour or so on the beach, we headed back up the road to Mallaig as I needed a few supplies. After doing the shopping I stopped off in the lovely Tea Garden cafe for a little breakfast, a fried egg roll which I promptly splashed all down my front! But otherwise it was a lovely relaxed start to the day.

It was late morning before we set off again, this time heading along the coast to Kilchoan where we were getting the ferry to Mull the next day. Once again we had stunning views along the way.

As is our habit we took a detour down an in-out road, sign-posted to Druimindarroch. This one proved to be very much a no through road. It literally simply came to an end and we had a tight squeeze to turn round and get back out!

We stopped along the way for a walk on the shore at Camas Torsa, a rocky shore, picked up a new gas bottle from a very cheery lady at Ardshealach and finally reached Ardnamurchan where we booked into the empty campsite and then headed on up the road to the most westerly point on the mainland, Ardnamurchan point with its lighthouse.

Ardnamurchan point was beautiful but very bleak and very cold. We had a walk along the cliff but decided against a picnic at the tables right on the west point. Instead they gave us a Parkour opportunity.

Heading back to the campsite we came across fields of very interesting sheep: Jacobs, Shetlands, Soay and what looked like it might have been a Manx Loaghtan ram! I am enjoying the sheep spotting up here!

The campsite was still deserted and on the final day of their season we were the only guests. It was a great site. We parked up at the top of hill with stunning views across to Mull. In the morning we could walk straight out onto their rocky shore.

Days 17-19: Over the sea to Skye

We set off from the lovely Wee Campsite at Lochcarron heading for the Kyle of Lochalsh and Skye. But first we needed a walk so we stopped at Strome Wood and set off up their woodland track. It was beautiful but very steep and I am quite certain more than the 3/4 of a mile claimed. But a lovely little walk with fabulous views over Loch Carron. 

Getting the walk in early was a good move as the day quickly became very wet so we didn’t see a great deal of the road via Plockton that we took to get to Kyle of Lochalsh and soon we were “over the bridge” to Skye. 

It is a beautiful bridge, rising high above Loch Alsh between the mainland and the Isle of Skye but I am not sure it has done the island any favours and I am pretty sure my parents would find Skye very different from when they honeymooned here just over 60 years ago. 

On our first day there we drove north from the Kyle heading for Portree, where we stopped for a short wander round the pretty harbour planning to then stop early at a recommended park up at Loch Leathan. But I took a wrong turn and ended up going up towards Uig and the top of the island – a much longer route than planned. However it did mean we could stop off at the Skye brewery in Uig to stock up on beer! 

I have to confess I am torn about Skye.

On the one hand it is breathtakingly beautiful. The Cuillins are magnificent and dominate the landscape from all angles. The light going round the top of the island was spectacular: sea, clouds and islands blended in beautiful soft milkiness. Most of this was impossible to capture in photographs not least because stopping on the rough single track roads round the north of the island proved tricky. But it was stunning. 

As I drove around the words from the Robert Louis Stevenson poem, used in the Outlander theme song, seemed very apt:

"Billow and breeze, islands and seas,
Mountains of rain and sun..."

But on the other hand it was so very busy. Bus loads of visitors jumping on and off for photo opportunities. People everywhere and with them the visitor attractions. I realise that I am part of that, but it struck me that on Skye – at least up north – it was almost impossible to find solitude.

Because of my wrong turning our first day was long – more than 125 miles – and we finally reached our park up at Loch Leathan as the light was fading. This was a recommended “Search for Sites” park up and the views were fabulous even in the rain. The loch beside us and the Old Man of Storr just behind. A rainbow added to our early optimism.

But it turned out to be a terrible place to sleep. The road was busy well into the early hours and the ground listed to the side far more than I had expected. It was wet and miserable and we were really cold. I didn’t sleep well though I think Otter at least was less worried!

However, by morning the weather had improved giving us a better view of the Old Man and a lovely dawn over the Loch. We set off early and after a short while took a detour towards Torvaig, mainly to get away from the endless traffic stream and to find somewhere for a walk. 

It turned out to be a seredipitous choice. A mile or so down the single track road we found a lane off to the right with a large sign saying PATH. A chap with a Jack Russell was just heading down it so it looked promising as a dog walk. We parked up out of the way and set off following the sign. It was a fairly boring walk through fields but it did the job. After a few stiles we met the man and his JRT who were now coming back. He was very friendly and suggested an alternative walk along the top of the shoreline.  So we headed off the way he indicated and soon found another sign also just saying PATH. This one soon took us along the top of the shoreline, with beautiful views stretching out over the sea and the peninsular opposite. 

Our walk at Torvaig restored my soul a little but I was very weary from the long drive the day before and the disturbed night, so after a visit to Portree and Stein harbour, where the oldest inn on Skye is located (shut when we go there in the late morning), I decided to call it a day and book into a campsite to recover.

We headed off to Carbost, home of the Talisker Whiskey Distillery and set up camp on the little Certified Location at Merkadale. It was basic but functional and good to have everything to hand including the rarity of wifi.

We took a walk down into Carbost and back then settled in for the night, under another rainbow.

On our final day on Skye we set off down to the south of the island, taking a little road round the feet of the mighty Cuillins and around Loch Slapin to Elgol. This was my favourite part of Skye by far. It was wild and beautiful at every turn. Sheep and highland cattle mooched across the roads without a care and the traffic was neglible compared with the rest of the island. It felt like the Glen that had been (thankfully!) forgotten, except by walkers and cyclists.

We went to the end of the road at Elgol then turned back and stopped at the base of Ben Meabost for a walk. The track would’ve taken us right up into the Cuillins but none of us are fit enough for that, so we contented ourselves with a walk in the foothills and then continued on our way down to the southernmost point of the island and the Aird of Sleet. Our walk there had to be cut short as we were due to catch the ferry to Mallaig, so we turned back and drove up to Armadale to take our place in the queue.

The ferry is just turn up and drive on. It is a short journey so we could stay in the van, which was just as well as Martha was quite concerned initially. So we sat together on the bench and had a cuddle while we made our way back over the sea from Skye.

We reached Mallaig as the sun was setting and had planned to park up in the car park there but it was packed and really not a pleasant place to stay, so we continued a few miles down the coast, taking a minor road off towards Traig. I soon came across a small layby opposite a tiny beach. On Google maps it is marked Arisaig Beach but Arisaig is further down the coast so I don’t know. But it was a nice park up if rather isolated so I put my straps on the front doors before we went to bed.

In the morning I couldn’t find my keys and then realised I had left them in the outside of the door all night! Clearly it was a safer location than I had imagined!

Days 15-16: The days of in and out roads and Bealach Na Ba

Day 15 started with a dawn walk on the lovely Little Gruinard Beach. Such a great park up with the beach to ourselves first thing. We were then off to explore the area around Loch Ewe. But first we took a small road off toward Opinan and the fascinatingly named Mellon Udrigle, which sounds like something from the Hobbit. The big surprise for us there was the wonderful beach, so we had our second beach walk of the morning. Stunning.

From Opinan we retraced our steps back to the main road. This was to be the pattern for the next few days. Following the single track until we literally reached the end of the road. Always hoping that there will be space to turn round (there always has been so far).

Moving up to the right side of Loch Ewe we reached Aultbea, which shows a lovely big beach on the map but all we could see was a rocky shore. Perhaps it is one hidden from the road, but having had beaches a plenty that morning we continued on to Mellon Charles where there was a Perfumery Cafe. I had a welcome coffee there with an awesome gluten and dairy free lemon and lime cake which was the most delicious thing. The dogs were sleeping off their beach time in the van.

We continued around Loch Ewe, once more taking a road in and out up to Cove, where there is a monument to the Arctic Convoy, the merchant navy and navy vessels that took supplies to Russia during the Second World War. Many perished en route and the memorial on the cliff top above the entrance to Loch Ewe, from which they left, was interesting and moving. I had not known about this before.

Apparently Loch Ewe was critical to the Navy during WW2, due to its natural defences and depth. There are lots of old bunkers along the shore line and a trail of information with stories of how the sailors interacted with the locals (mostly amicably) whom they outnumbered 3 to 1.

The next “in and out” road took us past the unimaginatively but accurately named Big Sand but disappointingly it was within a huge holiday park and I objected to paying to access it especially with so many accessible beaches around.

Our fifth and final in and outer took us to Red Point, another lovely beach but this one heaving with people so we continued back to the main road where we were carrying on towards Kinlochewe. We stopped briefly to see Victoria Falls, which was pretty and very peaceful. Not quite a match for its South African namesake, but a pleasant stop.

It was getting late by this point and we had covered well over 100 miles with all the ins and outs, so we started looking for a park up place. One place recommended on Search for Sites was a restaurant in Lower Diabaig, where you could park up and eat. It sounded attractive but was still a way away so I decided against it and opted for the car park in the heart of Glen Torridon. It is well used by walkers doing some of the peaks in that area, and a spot where Red Deer are known to hang out, but once the walkers left it was just us for a quiet and rather isolated night.

The heavens opened overnight and I was glad we were well up above the burn. The deer clearly had somewhere more cosy to hang out as we saw no sign of any. But we were cozy too and in the morning we strolled out in a brief respite from the rain and followed the hill walking path – but only for a short while. For today we had a major hurdle to cross: Applecross or to give it its Gaelic name: Bealach Na Ba – the Pass of the Cattle.

The weather was not much improved as we started Day 16 and before heading on the coast road to Applecross, we took the small in and out road towards Lower Diabaig, the location of our potential park up from the night before. Boy am I glad I opted for Torridon!

The road over to Diabaig was wild – hair pin bends, 25% inclines and a very narrow single track road. It was beautiful but I was glad I had not attempted it while tired the night before. When we reached Lower Diabaig I looked at the hill down and bottled out. I was not sure if we would get back out again! But this was all great preparation for what was to come later in the day.

We took the easy coastal route round to Applecross. It was drizzly and foggy so views were more limited, but a pleasant run. We stopped at Applecross beach for a rather wet walk on another great beach – and we even came across a little flock of Shetlands sheltering up in the woodland by the side of the road.

After a brief stop in Applecross, we set off to tackle Bealach Na Ba. Wow! What a road. It has the steepest ascent of any road in Britain rising from sea level at Applecross to 2054 ft (626 metres). It is similar to mountain passes in the Alps with hairpin bends and has blind summits and sheer drops at regular intervals. To make it more fun, as we drove up, the fog descended on us and I could barely see.

In reality, visibility was probably 20 feet but when you are on a single track road watching out for anything coming up the other way, that isn’t very far! I was gripping the steering wheel, crawling along, at one point genuinely scared!

But finally we started to descend and come out of the fog and it was worth it for the views that appeared before us. I could have done without the driver who decided to park up on the passing place on one of the switchbacks, and the one who waited until I had reversed back up the hill before thinking that perhaps they could move onto the gravel, and the many who attempted to race round it, overshooting passing places that should have been perfectly usable. And I don’t think I would choose to do it again in a hurry – at least not in a 15-year-old motorhome (although she did brilliantly). But I am glad we did it this time. It was an amazing experience.

I didn’t take any pictures but I have uploaded the unedited final 12 minutes of the descent. Excuse my language! It was a scary experience and I think I was slightly hysterical to have survived unscathed!

When we reached the bottom I stopped at the very busy dog-friendly Bealach Cafe and Gallery and had a wonderful Tuscan Bean soup and a salted caramel shortcake. I think I earned it. I ended up sharing a table with a chap from Dent who was just having a cheese toastie before tackling Bealach Na Ba the other way on a bike! So I felt like a wuss – although he graciously (though I think optimistically) said he thought it might be harder in a motorhome!

After my late lunch break I was much restored so we drove the last few miles to our campsite for the night: The Wee Campsite in Lochcarron. This very informal spot is great – you just park up and at some point the chap comes along and takes your money. And right next door there are pigs! Otter was fascinated and spent the rest of the drizzly evening pig watching from the van window! I made some more soup – carrot and pepper this time. Very nice!

Day 14: The Day the Midges joined us!

So we are now well and truly in Midge country! We have stopped for the night in a car park just opposite Little Gruinard Beach – a lovely little beach with great views over Gruinard bay and the Summer Isles. But the midges are out around the van in force! Hopefully our defences will hold – insect netting on all windows and Avon’s Skin so Soft on me just in case! It is just too hot not to have windows open.

We have just watched a glorious sunset while eating our tea of Scottish beef and Mileham tomatoes. Delicious. I am afraid I am back to eating meat but am making sure it is locally sourced. I am cutting back on carbs for health reasons so need good protein sources.

Anyway I am jumping ahead. Today we left the lovely Port a Bhaigh campsite at Altandhu and continued along the coast as far as we could then headed back and took the turn off to Ullapool. Now I know how all those people got to Achnahaird beach! The road was like a motorway compared to the route we had taken!

We continued down into Ullapool and did some necessary chores – a little shopping, posting out a book and a few things online that needed a decent signal. Plus we had a walk around the town – it is lovely along the harbour and fun to watch the ferry coming in. A reminder of when Rach and I took that ferry over to Lewis and Harris many moons ago.

The main road along the edge of Loch Broom coming out of Ullapool is pretty but I decided we needed to see it from both sides, so we turned off before Braemore, down the rather alarmingly named Coffin Road. Thankfully we turned off that quite quickly and proceeded down another single track road along the loch edge through half a dozen tiny communities until we literally reached the end of the road.

We are getting good at turning round so we retraced our steps, stopping to enjoy a small herd of Hebridean sheep and a couple of very fancy guinea fowl in the road!

Back on the main road we continued to Braemore Junction where we once again headed seawards reaching the coast again at the rather Irish sounding Dundonnell. It was then just a few miles to our resting place for the night.

We had a great time playing on the beach – aiming for at least one a day! This one had very soft wet sand so we sank well in and left great footprints.

It has been busy right up to sunset – and not surprisingly as it is very beautiful. But now there are just two other vans and we get to watch the last of the sunset in peace and quiet.

Day 13: The day of wild roads!

Today we went from Oldshoremore to Altandhu via three crazy roads! I was amazed that Martha took them all in her stride – her travel sickness really does seem to be a thing of the past.

First we took a detour along Loch Laxford via three tiny hamlets Foindle, Fangamore and Tarbet. It was an amazing road and we didn’t meet a soul at that time in the morning, which was just as well as the road was about as wide as the van with teeny passing places. But it was a gentle bit of practice for later in the day.

Next from Unapool we took the Drumbeg coast road, marked black and yellow on the map like an elongated wasp. It started fairly mildly but soon got into its stride with 25% inclines, blind bends and summits – and all of course single track with passing places! But I am not easily put off. I cut my hill driving teeth on the Lakeland passes – and this was no Hardknott!

I felt I had deserved my ice cream when we reached Drumbeg and I also treated myself to a handmade candle in a tin from the dinky candle shop at the bottom of the hill.

Then it was back down the other side – much tamer – to Lochinver. Here the main road takes you away from the coast and I wasn’t having any of that so instead I took the little coast road up to Strathan and Inverkirkaig – marked not suitable for vehicles over 26ft. At 21ft I fitted just fine – though I am pretty sure some of the vehicles we met had not measured accurately!

I was heading for a beach recommended by Claire Staines – Achnahaird – and we arrived in time for a lunch time stroll. It is a very beautiful beach – though surprisingly busy – at least 6 others on the beach and a full car park! Where they had all come from I was not sure as we hadn’t seen that many cars all morning.

But we had a lovely time and then continued across to the campsite at Althandhu. It was a bit early to make camp but we were tired and ready to stop and the site is well equipped so we can get everything filled and emptied for a few more days free camping.

I am braving the washing saga again – but it seems to be going much more smoothly than Culloden. Sun is setting over the bay and dogs are snoozing!

Days 9-12: The North Coast and Community Life

We had a wonderful dawn walk through the nature reserve, but left Little Ferry sharpish after our conversation with the local lady and continued on our way up the East Coast. Ali had recommended we call in at a community arts shop in Brora called The Otter’s Couch – and how would we resist? What a treat. Beautiful artwork of all kinds. I bought some camping and otter-themed cards and a sheepy coaster then got into a conversation with the lady in the shop who it turned out also had a dog named Otter. We shared photos and I went to get Otter to introduce her! She had a lovely time and a small photo shoot inside and outside the shop – so she is now featured on their Facebook page as well as mine!

This stretch was the first real section of the North Coast 500 that we did and it was tiring. Most people were driving the other way thankfully, including quite a few boy racers in hired sports cars and a rather fun vintage car rally all marked up with numbers and badges. But those going my way were also in a hurry and I found myself being harried by many, including a local bus. It is not as if I was driving that slowly: 50mph on average, a little slower on the bends. But they all seemed to be in a rush. Such a shame as the landscape is so beautiful. There is a limit to what you can take in speeding through at 70! So I stopped frequently just to take a break from the road.

The harbour at Helmsdale was pretty and gave Otter the opportunity for a short sniffari around the lobster pots. I loved their signs: Face the Hills on a flag waving from the harbour wall and Face the Sea on a building opposite.

I took a walk without the dogs to Badbea clearance village. I hadn’t expected it to be quite so far from the carpark or I might have taken them with me but it was a lovely walk and the ruined village is very atmospheric.

Our third “respite” stop was at the Cairn of Get. This again involved a much longer walk across the fields than expected but this time I had the dogs with me and it was great fun. The Cairn itself is an ancient burial chamber – all very interesting.

Finally we reached Wick and then John O’Groats – horribly touristy but a required stop for the obligatory photo at the signpost. After a hasty Orkney icecream we continued on our way and turn the corner onto the north coast.

Our destination was a CL called Crofter’s Snug, at East Mey, which had been highly recommended by our neighbours in Gardenstown. It did not disappoint. Right on the coast road the site had fabulous views across to Orkney and was just a short walk from the shore line and the Castle of Mey. We had a lovely walk, found a family of classic minis, and watched the sunset over Dunnet Head.

Day 10 started with our early walk down to the shore. This time we went down onto the rocks and we were all merrily jumping from rock to rock heading out to the water’s edge when I noticed one of the “rocks” just ahead moving! Seals! Dogs were hastily put on leads and we made our way quietly forward, getting quite close to what turned out to be a group of five or six seals on the rocks by the water. Just beautiful. Once Otter spotted them she started to puff and grumble so we turned away to avoid stress to all and retraced our steps up to the campsite.

It was a glorious sunny day and our first stop was the aforementioned Castle of Mey, renovated in the 50s by the Queen Mother just after the death of George VI. We stopped to have a look and I ended up on a tour of the house, which proved to be very informative and very long! But it is a lovely house – very much a lived in and loved home.

From there we drove up to the lighthouse at Dunnet Head for some lunch. Fabulous views on the way up and down and spectacular cliffs where many seabird colonies nest.

I was getting tired by this point so we continued on to Thurso (nice enough town), Scrabster (nothing but the ferry) past the massive Dounreay Power Station to Melvich, Strathy and Bettyhill. We were heading for Borgie to see friends from our Golcar days, Sue and Tony, who moved up to Borgie 17 years ago.

It must be around 12 years since I last saw them so we all had new dogs, theirs still Dobermanns, mine of course very different from the Maremmas I had when we last met. After a cup of tea and a catch up (doesn’t seem like 12 years!) we went back down to Bettyhill for a walk on the fabulous beach – Martha and Otter having a great time playing with Sue and their young rescue Dobie Zara. We finished off the evening with a fish and chip supper, from the opening night of a new dining spot in the village – and excellent it was too.

Back at their cottage, I was treated to hook up, a chance to do the laundry without any hassle this time, and showers – as well as access to a 2 acre field for the dogs. Luxury!

I stayed the next day with Sue and Tony. It was a very sunny if windy day and we were meeting friends of Sue and Tony for a dog walk at Talmine. In the end there were five of us and five dogs – and everyone got on famously. Having tried to provide a cuppa for everyone from the van and being defeated by an issue with the gas, we all went up to the local post office to get hot drinks!

Photo: Jill McDonald-Constable

In the course of conversation it transpired that one of the ladies, Lesley, had met me many years before in Meanwood Park with the Maremmas! What a small world. Lesley had moved up from Yorkshire a couple of years before and had adopted a handful of sheep, including Champ, a rigg with a bad chest. She had been given a syringe of medication by another farmer but wasn’t sure how to administer it so I leapt at the chance to do a bit of shepherding and went with her to drench the sheep!

Photo: Jill McDonald-Constable

Champ was a Cheviot so bigger than the Shetlands I am used to but he was very obliging and much less flighty. After one false start, he trotted up the hill following Lesley and the sheep nuts, straight into the small shelter where I was hiding to close the gate. Once penned he was easy to handle and I was able to show Lesley how to give the drench. What fun to play with sheep again – and to be able to help out one of Sue’s friends.

Photo: Jill McDonald-Constable

It was now 2pm but we managed to catch the end of the local “Soup and Sweet” lunch in Tongue village, and I had delicious Courgette and Basil soup followed by the most amazing meringue – all for £3.50. Plus the chance to meet some more of Sue and Tony’s neighbours and experience something of village life.

Our final stop was Novar, a croft that Sue and Tony have acquired since we last met, and which they have developed to provide two holiday lets (a luxury static caravan and a cottage – check them out at … if you are in the neighbourhood. It has the most stunning views over the Kyle of Tongue. The croft also houses a large vegetable plot, complete with polytunnel, small wind turbine and ducks, where they are successfully growing a vast range of fruit and vegetables. Tony has done most of the work renovating the croft and creating the polytunnel and vegetable area himself by hand – an incredible achievement. I left with a large bag of fine veggies and a bunch of delicious tiny grapes – which will see me good for the next few days.

We ended the day with a delicious stew of local beef and home grown veggies – wonderful – and I retired to the van to make soup with all my left over veg.

I could have stayed longer and it would have been lovely but I am conscious that I have a deadline for reaching Cumbria so I decided to press on the next day and after a morning walk with Sue and Tony and the dogs in Borgie Forest, we said our goodbyes and set off again.

We started with a brief diversion to Skerray Harbour just along from Borgie then we retraced our steps to Sue and Tony’s and continued on past Novar to the Kyle of Tongue, a dramatic and windy causeway across the water. As we’d been the Mhoine to Talmine the day before, we continued straight on towards Durness.

What a road! Mostly single track, it wends its way through craggy hills, up and down some steep inclines. Round almost every corner was another “wow” moment. Just stunning.

Durness was less interesting and very busy, especially around Smoo Caves, so since I had visited them on a previous occasion and it was way too hot to leave the dogs for any length of time in the van, we continued past and instead went up to Balnakeil Bay and its fantastic beach.

We had been here before with Sue and Tony and on that occasion the tide was out and the beach huge. Today it was in and the beach was much smaller but still just lovely for a walk – though very hot. So after splashing around in the surf we returned to the van and continued on up to Kinlochbervie where there is a large commercial port. Our final stop was another free camp in the car park at Oldshoremore.

What a treat. A flat car park with toilet and bins, Highland cows grazing and a burn running alongside, and a couple of minute walk to the most beautiful white, sandy beach. I am running out of superlatives for the beaches along this coast! We are sharing the car park with a couple of other vans so it feels very safe. We are all fed, dogs are sleeping off their glut of beaches and I am catching up on blog and photos, though there is still no signal so will have to wait to upload!

Days 6-8: Gardenstown to Little Ferry

Day 6 began with promise. I had made soup in the slow cooker overnight then blended it and portioned it up for lunches on the way. I had a great chat with the other motor-homers at the lovely campsite at Gardenstown and they recommended a number of possible stop-over points on the north coast. So I set off feeling optimistic if rather tired.

The dogs were also pretty weary so I decided to take a shortish walk before we left the area along the path to Crovie, a small village harbour all but cut off from its neighbour by erosion. It was meant to be half an hour each way which was perfect. We parked up as instructed at the school and set off down the track, but it was a horrible surface (black tarmac chips) and the dogs were really struggling, so after a short time we had to turn back. Very frustrating.

In the end we abandoned seeing Crovie and continued along the coast road. We were booked into Culloden campsite and had over 100 miles to travel. The route along the Morag coast was pretty but it is all rather a blur. We arrived in Findhorn early afternoon ­– a beautiful harbour with ancestral connections – and called into the dog friendly Kimberley Pub for a late lunch. Their seafood platter was delicious but it was a bit stressful trying to manage the dogs and eat at the same time, not helped by the chap opposite casting disapproving glances throughout our lunch. Of course his expressions may have had nothing to do with us but I felt self-conscious and unable to fully relax. As we left the pub to return to the van the heavens opened so we got back drenched and pretty miserable (no coats had been taken as the weather was lovely when we set out!).

After drying off it was on to Culloden. I had booked a big campsite as I had washing to do and wanted a shower. We arrived to discover one washing machine for nearly 90 pitches and a long queue. It got done in the end but my whole evening was spent running up and down to the laundry. But at least there were sheep!

After a long and trying day we decided to take Day 7 fairly easy. We left Culloden, saluting our 1745 Scottish ancestors who had fought there, as we passed the battlefield.  We spent the morning “fettling” the van – getting everything filled and emptied as required – then did some necessary shopping in Inverness. At lunchtime we were off again and on to the Black Isle.

This was a lovely drive – quiet roads and wonderful views. We stopped on the beach at Rosemarkie for a walk – wonderful surf that built up slowly to such a crash that it made us all jump every time!

Then we reached Cromarty, which always feels like a special place from it featuring in the Shipping Forecast. We walked along the front, visiting the tiny lighthouse and finding some lovely sculptural pieces. After a drive around the old town we continued on to Dingwall.

We stopped for the night at Evanton by the water, a free camp spot from Search for Sites, which proved to be delightful. Very quiet with great views but conveniently just off the A9.

Day 8 started dull and just got more drizzly but we had a great day anyway. From our park up we continued round to Nigg and Tarbatt. Nigg is dominated by an oil refinery but we discovered its Old Church – a treasure up a single track road. Inside the tiny church is the Nigg Stone – dating from the 8th century and carved with the earliest representation of the Eucharist in Britain, as well as birds, harps and sheep.

Balintore was our beach stop – and what a beach it was. It was massive and practically deserted when we arrived. We spent a lovely hour there before checking out the local sculpture – the Mermaid of the North (rather tacky looking to be honest) – and continuing on our way.

We had decided to free camp again and headed on to the Loch Fleet nature reserve where Search for Sites recommended the car park at Little Ferry. What a fabulous place! A huge nature reserve onto the shore of the loch with a deserted beach at the end. We completed our day with a wonderful walk where we watched seals riding the currents from the loch down to the sea. Magical.

The car park was quiet and we went to bed early and were up at dawn to enjoy another walk. As I was having my morning tea afterwards a very polite local lady came to the window to inform me that overnight parking was no longer allowed. I apologised profusely and explained I had not seen the signs (I couldn’t see them on the way out either but she assured me they were there!) and promised to make this clear in my review on Search for Sites. Such a shame as it is a wonderful park up – and I was grateful that she told me in the morning and not the previous night! She really was very polite!

Days 3-5: Reconnecting with friends

The past few days have been all about reconnecting with friends – both people and places. We visited here last year on our test run and we’ve been revisiting and investigating places further this time round. And it has been great to spend some time with good friends as well.

We left Kingsbarns having had a wonderful dawn walk on the beach where Otter discovered that seagull feathers (not attached to the birds thankfully!) are the best fun to chase. We were meeting my good friend Tracey and her two dogs Cuillin and Roxy at Tentsmuir Beach at 11 and, en route, wanted to follow up a recommendation from Isla: Jannetta’s Irn Bru ice cream in St Andrews!

Ice cream duly sampled (yum!) we met Tracey and had a fabulous couple of hours running around (the dogs that is – Tracey and I maintained a dignified stroll!) on the vast and deserted Tentsmuir beach. Tentsmuir has a huge forest leading to massive dunes and then the beach and is truly magical.

It also has a crepe wagon and the Goats cheese, walnut, fig and spinach crepe is highly recommended! After a leisurely lunch, Tracey and I said our farewells and I continued on up the coast, stopping off in Carnoustie for a cup of tea with Katherine, who started her TTouch training with us in Durham. Amazingly my route went right past her front door!

My plan was to free camp along the waterfront in Arbroath but when I arrived it was already jam-packed with motorhomes – there must have been 20+ parked nose to tail along the front – and it felt very claustrophobic. While there is an element of safety in numbers when free camping, there is a limit! So I decided to press on and in the end chose a big lay by overlooking Lunan Bay, separated from the road by a large grassy verge. We were joined by an Argos lorry for a couple of hours but then he moved on and we were on our own. It could have been scary but wasn’t. I strapped the front doors together and told Martha she was the security detail, but in the end it was quiet and no one bothered us. And we had sea views!

We were up to see the dawn (I must clean the van windows!) and went down to Lunan Bay for an early walk – just wonderful – before continuing up the coast.

The highlight of this stretch was Stonehaven with its pretty harbour. We managed to park up right by the harbour wall so we could have a good explore (can you spot Wolfie?). We’d visited Stonehaven last year but not stayed too long.

The best find of the day was one we missed completely last year: Stonehaven’s war memorial. Built high up on the cliffs overlooking the town, it is designed as a number of unfinished pillars, to represent the unfinished lives of the war dead. An absolutely stunning and atmospheric place – and lovely that it looks down over the town from which the 200 men and at least one woman, left to go to war, and never returned.

From there we headed to Aberdeen with its stunning granite buildings before taking a detour inland to catch up with Ali, another old friend from TTouch. It has been about 5 years since we saw each other but it felt like yesterday and it was lovely to meet her husband Paul and lovely dogs, Tilly and Coco, who were very tolerant of Martha and Otter noisily invading their home. We set up the van outside their stables and I settled down with a G&T and a very delicious low-carb cauliflower cheese, while they went out for a previously booked meal with friends. We slept really well!

After a leisurely breakfast with Ali and Paul, and homemade banana and choc chip muffins (yum!), we said our goodbyes and we were on the road again.

We wended our way back across to the coast then up to Cruden Bay, where we stopped for a walk. As I pulled into the car park I recognised it as another old friend. Last year we had walked along the cliff top to the ruins of Slains castle and it was beautiful, so we did it again.

Slains is a stunning ruin, right on the cliff edge, and is unusual in that you can explore the rooms and stairways without restriction. I was a little cautious as some of the windows had a sheer drop the other side and I didn’t fancy “spotting” Martha and Otter doing Parkour on those! But we had some fun with some of the safer ones.

Retracing our steps back to the village we had a brief visit to the beach (have to have at least one beach a day!) and then continued on to Peterhead and Fraserburgh – both industrial ports – with a brief diversion down to Rattray – a tiny hamlet with a 12th century ruined chapel and a road to match! We were lucky to get out of there with Martha’s stomach contents still in place!

As we turned the corner at Fraserburgh to head west along the Moray coast, the landscape changed, from the gentle rolling farmland that characterises the north coast to rocky outcrops, crashing surf and 1 in 5 inclines. What a great road.

Our final destination for the night was the Gamrie CL, a tiny site just over the hill from the coastal villages of Gardenstown and Crovie. There are only two of us here – much better than the bigger sites – but with only basic facilities: water, waste disposal of all types and electricity. It does however have a big dog walking field so the girls are happy and very sleepy!

Tomorrow we continue along the Moray coast, visiting some of the places my maternal highland ancestors hailed from. Goodnight all!

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