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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