Video: Week 1

Each week I will do a video summary of what we have been up to. Here is Week 1. I know we have already finished week 2 but it still needs editing!

Are you scared and other frequently asked questions

Most of my posts so far have been trip reports – sharing a glimpse of where we have been and what we have done. But people have asked a number of questions about the trip so I thought it might be worth doing a kind of FAQ for the trip. If there is anything you want to know just ask!

Are you scared?

I think this is mostly in connection with free camping though perhaps also doing this alone. The honest answer is I haven’t been yet. The closest I got was when a car pulled into the layby where I was parked alone, just as I was getting the dogs out for their final ablutions. But it was weird rather than scary – they drove on past and straight out the other end. Either they got a sight of Martha and didn’t fancy their chances or they weren’t on the look out for an overweight middle aged woman!! Either way there was no trouble.

When we are on our own at a park up, particularly if it is on the road, I will strap the front doors together so they can’t be opened even if someone broke the lock. But to be honest Martha is a great watch dog and would not take kindly to anyone entering without permission. Even Otter would make a lot of fuss! I think it would feel very different without the dogs but with them it is all very relaxed. And almost everywhere there has been at least one other van so it feels much safer.

Do you have a set route?

Not really. I am following the coast as closely as I can but in reality there are bits where it is just not possible by vehicle. So we have a big atlas and each evening we plan roughly where we will go the next day. Sometimes that has to change when we see the road – it has to be sensibly passable by a small motorhome – and sometimes we decide to follow a route that we had not found on the map. We keep going – stopping for breaks, walks and visits whenever we want to – until I get tired and then I look for somewhere to stop. I have pre-booked (the day before) a couple of sites when I knew I needed to service the van. I have popped into one or two on spec (there are spaces at this time of year) and I have rung CLs on the day for that evening.

I don’t want to book any further ahead as it just puts pressure on us to cover distance.

How far are you travelling each day?

This question has come up both from those who think we are covering the ground quickly – and those who feel we are taking our time! The short answer is “it depends” but it is averaging around 80 miles a day. Any more than this feels really tiring. We would do less if we wanted to spend a long time at a place but this pace allows us to pause where we like, do several decent walks a day and stop off to visit the odd gallery, shop or visitor attraction.

I am doing very few café stops – except the ones where we make our own – and have not visited too many attractions simply because of leaving the dogs. It has been ridiculously warm for most of these first two weeks and the van, while not getting dangerously hot, does get stuffy. So far, we have stuck to things we can all do together. That may change as the weather cools down – we will see.

Are you coming to … [insert where you live]?

If it is on the coast then almost certainly. I am not making it to many islands and if you are up an unmade track then I may miss you but I will be visiting as much of the coast as I can reach. At the moment it looks like it will be Scotland until the start of October, the West coast and Wales until the start of November, the South West and South East until December, then the East coast in late December/January. I have a few workshops planned so may be taking a few days out of sync to do those if I am not there at the allotted time but otherwise will be steadily working my way round. Give me a shout if you’d like to have a coffee – and even more so if you have a coastal park up you can offer!

How are the dogs finding it?

Great question especially as Martha has famously been extremely car sick in the past. They are actually taking it all in their stride. Martha has amazed me by not only not being sick at all but actually looking quite cheery when I have checked on her on some of these very windy and bumpy roads. She either sleeps or seems to be getting her sea legs and just watches where we are going. Otter travels in her box in the front and loves it as always. She is excited when it is time to leave a place and asks to go in her box.

But they are both also enjoying the variety I think. Otter is becoming more tolerant of dogs and children – and Martha is only barking when she feels something needs sorting. Both are sleeping really well and are very relaxed in the van.

How do you manage off grid?

The van is self-sufficient – especially as the battery charges when driving so we always have enough electricity for our free camps. There is also a solar panel which will have been working over-time recently!  We have an onboard toilet (lasts me on my own 2-3 days before we need to empty at a campsite) and water and waste tanks last a similar amount of time. The van also has gas heating (not required at the moment but we have had a couple of cold evenings) and gas water heater – though to be honest I just boil the kettle if needed. Cooking is gas (calor). Aside from a slight problem we have at the moment with a calor gas bottle which seems to be mis-threading, it all runs smoothly (we have two gas bottles on board so this is not a disaster just an annoyance).

When running on 12v battery, I have an inverter which allows me to still charge my computer and camera batteries and we have several 12v to USB charge points. So I can function off grid perfectly well for 2-3 nights.

At the moment I am aiming for at least 2 off for 1 on, where the on can be a small site or CL as long as it allows basic servicing of the van.

What about showers?

There is a shower in the van and I have used it to wash my hair when on hook up without a shower block. I could technically use it to shower fully every day but it would use a lot of water and gas – and frankly make a wet mess in the bathroom! So I just have a thorough flannel wash or do a “baby wipe shower” (with biodegradable, plastic-free baby wipes!) on the days when we are not on a site. So far I have managed to have a full shower one night in three and I don’t think I am smelling badly!

How do you get internet?

Mostly I tether my computer to my phone or iPad both of which have 4G through different companies. Even so much of the North and West coast so far have been without signal, so the answer then is that I don’t. It is much less of an issue than I would’ve expected. Having taken an official break, I am not feeling guilty if I can’t get online. I can write blog posts in Word to upload when I get the chance.

Occasionally sites have decent wifi which is a treat. The bigger sites have it for a price and I haven’t used it yet but I may need to – it is reasonable if you pay for 12 months.

Do you get lonely?

Not yet – but perhaps ask me again in 3 months. So far in a fortnight I have met up with three lots of friends, which is probably more than I would do at home! The dogs are great company and I am happy on my own. I thought I would miss online communication more than I do but so far I am not minding being without for a lot of the time. Plus I have met new people and got involved in some community things while staying with friends which is a lot of fun.

Lessons from the first two weeks

So we are now two weeks in so I thought it would be fun to review what I have brought on the trip: what has been essential, what I could happily jettison and what I wish I had (and may still get!).

So first what has proved to be essential?

The paper map. Sat Navs are all very well but they like direct routes and don’t function at all when there is no signal (if you use Google maps as I do). A good, old fashioned paper map gives hours of pleasure: planning routes, checking routes, getting back to the right route! Mine is already getting dog eared and has pages falling out but as long as it lasts the trip I don’t care too much!).

The dog guard behind the seats. A last minute addition (it is actually a panel from a sturdy puppy pen), this slots just behind the front seats. It will slide fully back to open up the gangway and can be secured in place with bungees. Not only does it keep Martha secure in the back while we are driving, but it allows me to separate off the front in the evening and overnight. Works brilliantly.

Microfibre towels and tea towels. These I was in two minds about but they have proved to be brilliant. Compact but absorbent and very quick drying. I would say for the human towels get ribbed ones – they feel much more like “real” towels than the smooth ones. My smooth ones have been relegated to hand towels and bath mats!

Bungee cords. You cannot have too many. They keep my bedding in order during the day, act as internal washing lines, stop things falling off shelves and generally hold things in place.

The inverter. This gives you 13 amp sockets from a 12v supply and is invaluable for those chargers that run from 13 amp as well as the fairy lights. You can’t run heat appliances from it but it is still a very useful piece of kit that I have used a lot.

Multiple dog leads. This was controversial but I am glad I stuck to it. I have three leads for Otter (who needs to be on more often) – a light normal length “town” lead for visiting places where she has to stay close, a 3 metre webbing lead for walks like on the moors where she can have a bit more freedom but not too much because of sheep, and her biothane long line for the beach. Martha only has the one but she is off whenever it is safe. I could happily have a 3 metre one for her too for walks where there may be sheep!

Grinders of seasonings. I picked these up in Aldi of all places before I left – different blends of seasoning – Garlic and Tomato, Fish Seasoning etc. They are great! Add flavour to meals without needing a whole spice rack.

The water filler cap. This is a godsend when trying to fill water on your own. You just screw it on, attach the hose and turn on the tap. No trying to hold the hose in while running round to the tap and having water spray everywhere. This is an essential bit of kit when travelling alone.

Levellers. Essential if you are parking somewhere not completely flat. Have used them several times already!

My Doris and Fred notebooks. I have two notebooks: one a daily travel log, the other a record of sites and overnight spots. They are customised and have a page for every day. I complete these religiously each evening so I have a record of key things: where we went, what we did, where we stayed, as well as mileage, prices etc. Really helpful record and very manageable.

Skin So Soft. Coming into its own as we hit midge country. Officially the best thing to keep them (and probably almost anyone else) at bay!

What about the things I have yet to use?

Most of the tech I brought. I brought loads: lights, tripods, mics, cameras. I thought I would be doing a lot more stuff (I guess I still might?). But I am generally using two iPhones for photography (my current one and an old one which does well as a dash cam) with occasional use of the Osmo Pocket. I ditched the Go Pro after the first couple of days as the quality is so poor and I have barely used my digital SLR as it is so big. Similarly have yet to use a tripod (though it would probably improve some shots!) and the drone has stayed in its box (nowhere quiet enough to try it out even up here). This may change later on but at the moment I could clear a whole cupboard by stripping down tech and not miss it.

Herbs. I started off with the bright idea of having fresh herb plants in the van and got some cheery coloured pots to put them in. I started with fresh basil and had a plan to buy those pots that supermarkets sell but I kept decapitating the basil as I climbed past and it was looking sorry for itself so I have ditched it and the herb plan. However the colourful plant pots I have hanging up are really useful for keeping odds and sods handy: change for the washing machines, my glasses, the fly swat, chargers and the odd mini tripod in case I need it!

The personal table. This was so that I could work on things without taking the bed down but it was so awkward trying to do everything sitting on the bed that, after the first night, I have taken the bed down every morning and made it up again each night. It is not anything like as onerous as I expected it to be and having a proper table and place to sit has been essential. Martha is fine on the side bench or a single bench – and she often travels on the floor anyway. This was something that surprised me but it is now part of our morning and evening routine. The personal table, lovely though it is, has stayed in the cupboard.

Half the clothes I have brought. Useful I guess to know I have 10 days worth of clothes but the reality is that storing 10 days worth of dirty washing is tricky. So I am doing a wash every 5 or 6 days and reusing the same clothes. So I could probably ditch a few!

Things I wish I had (and may still get):

A longer water hose. Have two water hoses but have still had a couple of occasions where they are too short to reach the available tap. An expanding long hose is on my shopping list.

A small gas burner. The current issue with the spare gas bottle makes me feel that some kind of independent gas burner would be a good emergency measure. It would mean that it was always possible to boil a kettle no matter what! (Have since picked one up).

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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