I turned the key and the Defender coughed into life, I mentally checked off specks…phone…wallet and patted my pockets to locate them, Julie repeated the checklist to me standing there on the drive then I needed another pee, isn’t that always the way when the trips about to start? Finally I was set, I engaged first gear took off the hand brake and let go the clutch, I moved forward down the lane I could see Julie taking a photo so gave the thumbs up. I wound the window shut it was a clear blue morning but there was still a bit of a chip in the air
I was on my way, Scotland here we come! The layout in the back had taken me a few days to decide how to put it together to what configuration I think I wanted. But no doubt I’ll come back with different ideas. It’s so full of camping equipment and more than what I normally take because I don’t intend to stick to the Yorkshire Dales! I want to be fully self-sufficient to be able to set up in the likes of desert, mountains, deserted coastlines or the forests of the Carpathians. Hence the likes of the special South African fridge, and Australian heavy-duty outback tent (Oztent) On the flip side I want to be able to blend in and use the all singing all dancing campsites as well as the basic campsites ( on this trip maybe I’ll achieve some experience in wild camping which is allowed in Scotland. Id done motorbike camping for the past 30 yrs and can put a Fosters can to a million useful uses, this type of camping was a whole new learning curve. Julie had elected not to come along on this one, she has slung her leg over so many motorbikes and come with me on many a camping adventure throughout Europe so reserves the right to say “You can bog off on your own on this one….Scotland under canvas in April is gonna be cold!”
I did my research and chose to visit the Islands of Islay and Jura, they lie just off the rugged western coastline. Look for Glasgow on the map, look left and you will come across them just beyond the Kintyre Peninsular. Id had inspiration six months ago from an article in a Land Rover magazine about a couple who’d done the whole west coast and visited every island in six months, their truck was an old classic as was the old boy and his dear wife! Id carefully torn the pages out and pinned them to the wall to look at every time I set foot in the garage.
“See you in a few days then” I shouted over the engine we kissed and I was gone. I was sorting my gadgets out on this run too, my Garmin GPS was stowed away at the moment, today I would explore the I-Phone which was “bluetooth” to my new inflight stereo. Already I could select my music selection through it and use the telephone hands free thingy, though shouting at the tiny mike high in the top right hand windscreen feels a bit odd! What I wanted to try was the Google Maps GPS facility on the phone especially out in the wilds. My CB would sit idle, unused except perhaps in an emergency, hopefully not. I had my camera box secured on the passenger seat via the seat belt. Next to me was the secure centre console with map reading sunglasses, ordinary glasses, heartburn / headache tablets, several bottles of water and several pieces of fruit. above in the new overhead consoles sat the island maps and small first aid pack. I wanted everything at hand because once behind the wheel it was awkward reaching across twisting to try to reach from the seat which is fixed fairly upright ( though the back is movable) its close to the upright dash panel the large steering wheel sits so that you cannot roll your hips at all also in the way is the large centre cubby box sitting astride the huge transmission tunnel, on top of this is a large piece of park fence railing that doubles as a gear-stick and has you well boxed in! The best way is to slide out then climb back in kneeling on the seat! All said and done this is has so far been the most comfortable of driving positions in my short driving experience.
The morning sun watched as we turned off the M62 at Ferrybridge and onto the link-road to the A1 northbound, Id selected “Shuffle” on the I-Phone music button which was plugged into the bank of 4 USB ports. I was at Scotch Corner now and slowing for the left exit, up and round we went onto the A66 and further north we pushed, in spite of the weatherman promising overcast and a cold day it was still pleasant with sunshine and some cloud and the traffic was light making a great start to the day. The truck was fine the new sound-proofing was making a difference and the strong TDI engine made light work of the load and rolled along at great speed, (70 mph is great in a truck) I took advantage of several dual carriageway sections and floored it, sweeping past the big trucks and numerous farm vehicles and slower car drivers. The top speed is pretty good, it’s even more impressive on a downhill section with a favourable tailwind! I had Penrith in sight before long and slowed to negotiate the couple of large roundabouts and traffic lights before dropping down onto the northbound motorway heading towards Carlisle. The motorway (A74M) going north after Carlisle is always more pleasing to the eye and easy to drive. It was soon time to pull over and have a break and a bite to eat and to top up the fuel. I was planning to camp overnight on the bonnie banks of Loch Lomond and I was making excellent time at the moment. I was posting status updates on FaceBook mainly for Julie’s benefit but you guys could see my progress too, last year I thought the phone was pretty crap in Scotland, its a 3G I-Phone using the 02 network hey I thought Id be pretty sortedwhen I got it? I like out-of-the-way places and tend to steer away from people and cities hence I love the Scottish Highlands and so the phone being used as a phone over the coming days was probably going to be a bit of an uphill battle wasnt it?
More road lanes converged and compressed as we reached the city, the motorway rose on doncrete piles and twisted around Glasgow, slip-roads came and went quickly, a fair bit of lane swapping was going off, some drivers dived for the lane at the last-minute! it got busy very quickly the ultra late lane swapping made me concentrate more. No longer on my 1800cc motorbike with seemingly miles of room all around me with its light-weight handling and excellent brakes it made me very aware how “tank like” I really was now! I stuck to the middle lane at 55 mph keeping a keen eye out I listened to the Google GPS which was helpful and accurate. To be honest I knew where I wanted to be but wanted to see how the I-Pod coped. I was heading to Erskine Bridge, also on route was the city airport and both are always well sign posted I knew this of because I have come this way a dozen times over the years.
Soon the city dropped behind me, Erskine Bridge came and went and I was on the A82 heading towards Loch Lomond. I wanted to camp on the eastern bank for one night before making my way to the Islands over to the west I would be driving through lands for the first time and didn’t want to rush it (yes you can rush even in a Land Rover) Almost immediately I came across large signs warning against wild camping of any kind between March and October, and if you got caught the fine is £500.00???? Wow! Id read on of the forums how people ignored wild camping rules and began leaving rubbish all over and generally behaving like “twats” Judging by the newness of the signage it appears to be a fairly new by-law. So I pulled into the first of the three camping grounds instead, it was a club site and got access at about £14. I still got my wish and camped on the banks of Loch Lomond the site manager and his wife are busy getting ready for the easter wagon trains due from Thursday onwards. Today it was very quite, I parked were he asked and was dropping the tent off the roof when he asked if it might be a bit too draughty?! I looked at him replying “Is that your “scouse” wit shining through there pal?” “No no no mate” he countered “Some people don’t like it when its a bit windy” We both stood there laughing at how soft and picky some people could be. A “Scouser”and a Yorkshireman calling the rest of Britain a bunch of pussy’s!
First overnighter..on the bonnie banks of Loch Lomond
He left me to it, the ground was bit soggy, the grassy turf was only about 4 inch thick before we hit the boulders that made up the constructed shoreline of the campsite. This is where the OZ tent equipment…and a bigger hammer shone through! The pins were the diameter of good old six-inch nails but more like eight in length and the tent really does go up in 30 seconds as the advert says, the frame locks and it stands free without flopping back down again, but like the man says it’s a bit draughty so I shall bang some pegs in! With some probing and wiggling they were hammered around or through unseen boulders. I broke out the cooking stoke filled it with petrol and fired it up and set the kettle on it, meanwhile I would have a tinnie whilst I waited for the water to boil. I sat there putting together the bed which was another 1 minute job! I pulled out a box of cut chicken from the fridge some spices and rice from a box and cooked my evening meal. The clouds had finally arrived as promised the temperature began to drop and the wind increased, it was nearly 20.30rs. I decided to take a steady drive up the single track to the end at a walkers centre with a small YHA facility, it was called Rowardennan,there was a pay and display car parking area amongst the trees this is where the little road ended and the walking began, we were in the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park after all. A car or two were here but that was all. I dropped back and visited the other two camp sites with reference for next time maybe, there was also a hotel an exclusive log cabin park and a B+B here and there. Me thinks this side of the Loch is probably really busy in summertime. I sat by the lake.. sorry loch! in the twilight and looked at the mountains grey and misty just across the way and saw the occasional white box shape of a vehicle on my favorite A82 running along the opposite bank about a mile or two away. If I were to drive to that spot now it would take about 35 miles! Nay matter Bonney Lad I would be there on the morrow!
Loch Lomond late afternoon
The wind had got up during the night and sent white horse galloping across the water it turned quite cold too, I got up once during the night like one does and stood outside watching Mother Nature at work on the night shift, it was cloudy so I couldn’t see the stars tonight, I returned to bed throwing on another jumper I climbed back into the sack.
Sitting on the first dock of the tour..it looked a grey start
It was over by the morning a dampness hit my face as the light drizzle blew over, I felt a cooked breakfast in order so dug some sausage and bacon out of the fridge to got to it as the kettle boiled. I took a last look around the place and captured a somewhat dreary shot of a broken dock, it related to the stiff wet start we were having, but hey ho it wasn’t even 8 yet! I packed away and was on the road in about 90 minutes, Im thinking 60 minutes would be better but today was the first of the year and no hurry, the ferry wasn’t until about 15.00hrs, I was looking forward to the days drive down the length of the Kintyre Peninsular
I called at the local supermarket and stocked up on food for the weekend and bought myself some tasty haggis slices, NOW I really feel like Im in Scotland!
Note the shopping bag on the shoulder with fruit and haggis…Happeeee!
The cloud base around the Loch was low and the drizzle was hanging, I knew this because as I got back to the A82 it cleared away, looking back over to where Id come it still looked wet and gloomy. I drove north up the western side of the loch as far up to Tarbet where I took the left hook at the lights and on through a narrow valley, the winds was stronger now buffeting me, I put my foot down to try and keep the speed up. After an hour I was at the head of Loch Fyne and turning into another valley, the damp stillness long replaced by bracing winds of some ferocity as my progress slowed again! I was still heading westwards directly into the wind for another ten miles before reaching the lee of the opposite mountains and I could avoid the winds. There had been stretches of repair work along this road, and the lads looks cold and very busy in spite of their layers of clothes, never have I seen a road workforce so busy! Maybe they were trying to get it done before the Bank Holiday started properly in a few days? It was somewhere here that the ashes of my eldest brother are scattered. I was going to pause for a while, but I realised Id already driven past, it must have been between somewhere amongst the stretch of road repairs. So at the next place I could find I stopped and studied the map and marked it determined to pause on the way back, the place is known as the Rest and be Thankful I pulled out and carried on muttering to myself not to miss it on the return. He and I had the same love of the Highlands.
The blue sky and the bright sunshine began to break through here and there as I neared the beautiful waterside town of Inveraray, a single humped bridge stood before me. “Aha I remember this place!” I shouted to myself, there was a castle to the right that can be only seen from the middle of the bridge, for years I thought the castle was at Oban!
The above image can only be obtained by standing in the ye olde worlde single track humpy bridge. Perhaps the old Laird is a bit camera-shy? Or he owed somebody some money!! Here is whats said about the place, Its been in the Duke of Argyle family since the 17th century. The 13th Duke and his family live in private apartments occupying two floors and set between two of the castle’s castellated circular towers. In 1975 a devastating fire struck Inveraray and for some time the Duke and his family lived in the castle basement while restorations requiring a worldwide fundraising drive were carried out. It’s a little odd don’t you think? If you or I were him wouldn’t we have moved out to someplace nice whilst the house was being decorated? Its not as though we were skint is it, or is it??
I drove past the small town and pulled over by the widening Loch at a village called Furnace. The mountains had receded somewhat, replaced by low rolling hills and some scattered grazing land. I couldn’t really get a lick on along these roads, they twisted too much too often to get a good run going, flicking the truck round a corner is not something to do unless your intent on a good old roll! I was going along at about 40 mph and enjoying the fab views, there wasnt much on the road at all and an overtake was something of an event. Lochgilphead was the next small town Id pass through. Id given myself nearly six hours to get to the ferry, I was intending to explore lots of smaller roads but the experiences along this main road told me I wouldn’t have the time, and anyway it was just as rewarding. Round another head I drove and round to the small Loch Gilp. I paused again for a look. Taking a long look at something particular on the move isn’t a good thing to do! Once or twice I found myself in the other lane with a vehicle behind me probably wondering if I was pissed..old..local..or just a farmer! so yes the best thing was to pull over and enjoy the view. I climbed up onto the roof first to check the straps holding the tent, then sat there looking out, it really was fantastic and getting better in the clearing conditions. The town of Tarbert sat on the tiny spit of land that just held Kintyre to the mainland. Id read a funny story about this place from the days of the Vikings..
The Kintyre Peninsula is 40 miles long and 8 miles wide and almost an island except for the tiny bit I’ve just mentioned. During the Viking occupation of the Western Ilse the Scottish King tried to outwit the them by declaring the Vikings could claim as their own any of the islands they could circumnavigate in one of their Longships, knowing Kintyre was locked to the mainland by this 1 mile he figured he’d played a blinder. So in 1098 the Viking chief, Magnus Barefoot sailed around the “island” then stood at the helm as everyone got out at Tarbert and dragged the long ship the 1 mile to the water at the other side thus validating his claim to Kintyre! I bet there were some “bollokings” flying round the Scottish top table that night!
The ferry port sat just 5 miles t’other side of Tarbert at Kennagraig, there is nothing here, nothing at all except a couple of hundred yards of white lined super smooth tarmac and a couple large storage units next to four porta cabins locked together to form the booking offices of CalMac, it housed the passenger seating area and the toilets. The terminal staff busied themselves at the storage bay getting a large pallet stacked with supplies for the ships kitchen, one or two others stood on and around the dock ramps checking this and that. They stood out in their dayglo orange “puffa” jackets and trousers, the boat handlers were more dirty due to the constant handling of the ships lines. It wasnt so windy here but I bet it can really blow hard up the loch from the Atlantic just ten miles away down there. I was now sitting on the banks of Loch Tarbert, I had two hrs to wait. I pulled up behind the one other vehicle in the painted lines numbered 1 to 6. This helps the loading staff to put different sized vehicles in some kind of loading order. Loading a ferry isn’t so straight forward as it may seem! As ferry ports go this is a very small affair and supplies just Islay and Jura three times a day. Extra support services if needed were just two miles down the road at the town.
I went to get my paper work exchanged for tickets and to study the map and decide on my options for returning. I had earlier agreed to be back to help a pal with a heavy difficult job at the garage on Wednesday.
Half an hour later I came away with a firm plan of action. If I took the return road journey from here to Glasgow and the motorway it would mean leaving a day early and would take me a whole day and another overnight stop again. After talking to the CalMac I could return on my original day using two extra ferries across to Arran then then mainland at Androssen which puts me less than an hour from the motorway, joining it 15 miles to the south of Glasgow, I could be home easy in six hours from there, the money incurred in extra ferries would be a positive saving against extra fuel and extra overnight costs driving all the way round.
I sat on the dock of the bay and waited for the ferry, I was to do that a lot over the next week! Slowly the little box on the horizon came closer and took shape of a ship, not at all the size of a cross-channel ferry that Im so used to, this was smaller quicker and more manoeuvrable
My boat comes in.
The Captain does this 3 times a day so makes the procedure looks easy, just a couple of metre from the docking clamp the bow raises and he nudged forward to lock onto the pier-head, the ropes are thrown down and secure the ship to the pier fore and aft the side thrusting props are ticking over and assist to keep the ship at station whilst it empties then fill again with new vehicles, as the two tallest vehicles the front two (me) are called forward and are parked in the roofless area by the stern, my vehicle is down on the ticket as over 2+ something metres tall.
As you can see the truck sits higher than your average car, so they have put be me in the open and not under the orange marked roof.
I parked up and made my way topside. This was a first for me and it made a nice change not to start lashing down the motorbike with hooks and straps. I head for the bar and had a “wee” dram of Ardbeg then stood outside in the breeze as the crew set about securing the ship for sea.
If I had hair it would be all over the place!
The bow was lowered and locked ropes pulled aboard and stowed in ordered circular piles a quick radio check with the Officers above me also watching the activity happy with everything the men went to other jobs and the Officers on the bridge selecting “both engines reverse” we reversed away from the dock the pilot put left hand down on the wheel turning us round to face the open sea ten miles down the loch. Now the cloud really had gone and the sun was cracking the flags…well it would have been had there been any beneath me. The wind was channeled up the Loch and was blowing fiercely directly to our front I was stood with a forward lean on!! Oh how wonderful this was, a slug of Ardbeg warming my belly stood on the deck sailing to new lands and a few days of driving new roads to new places ahead of me. How much better can it get?
You can see tiny flecks in the picture? The only this to keep everything out of the camera body in these conditions probably resides over there at NASA!!
The journey too 2 hrs in all sailing up the sound between the two islands was even more windy with a hard effort to hang onto the rail, most folk had by now gone inside and it wasnt long before I joined them, the sea came through the sound at a strong rate yet the Captain still made docking look and feel quite easy, the bows opened up we nudged forward a few metres and everything locked into place, within two minutes we were waved forward, I moved up onto the ramp onto the concrete nothing was here except the small port facility a hotel and post office with its small mini market, the road went up the hill and away from Port Askaig I followed my nose inland and pulled over after a couple of minutes to get my bearings.
There was just the one road it split at Bridgend, I took the left fork and head toward the small airport, this had started life as a WWII RAF base, its aircraft used to patrol the sea for enemy submarines and protect incoming convoys. Now it serviced the islands. The campsite I was going to was just below it on a farm, I would be camping was in the dunes. I had to drive way past and return on another even more narrow road it petered down to a farm track for the last few miles until I finally reached the farm, the lady told me they were still lambing so were closed, perhaps I could come back in a couple of weeks? ……My mind was shouting all kinds of things but the old girl was so sincere and sorry, I just smiled and said “Aaah Ok perhaps I’ll go round the bay to the other one” Id marked the second site on the map and it was about 17 miles away around the bay, so I turned the truck around and set of back towards Bridgend and took the other fork! I have to say the going was slow as I was driving on single track road most of the way with stopping places every fifty yards or so. An old guy waved as I let him by then another and another, even when the road widened folk still waved, maybe they thought I was someone who lived here? I smiled and waved back. I was looking seaward as I rolled down the road it did look fantastic! I came across the folk at Bridgend with its pub, hotel, village green and two Spa shops and fuel pump. I turned left as an old guy came around the corner and even he put his hand up in acknowledgement! I had about 7 miles to go before Port Charlotte and the other campsite, again every car that passed waved at me! The campsite here was a shared concern with the local football team, it had a spanking new building with cafeteria changing room and showers for the teams and full facilities for campers, however we weren’t allowed on the smooth flat green pitch, no we had to use the grass between the pitch and the cliff edge! Alongside pitch 1 were the hook ups for motorhomes, alongside pitch 2 was us the tents I pitched facing the bay and cracked a “tinnie” and stood staring out to sea. This site whist a little unorthodox would be fine and cost for 5 nights the princely sum of £40 I was sure I could see everything including a day over on Jura from here so was content to use it as my base for the tour. I cooked a meal and had a few more “tinnies” it was 21.00 hrs and the light was dropping as was the temperature so I got ready for bed, Id be up and about early in the morning!
Tea-time at Port Charlotte
I awoke at dawn and opened the flap to the most fantastic view over Laggen Bay and stared right into the rising sun, just to the left was Loch Indaal with the village half a mile away, Bridgend was out of sight miles away at the head of the Loch.
Lake Charlotte and Loch Indaal at 06.00hrs
Breathtaking it was! I sorted a cup of tea and a leisurely work up to breakfast, the clean up after was done within the hour and I set off for the day, leaving the pots and pans to dry in the morning sunshine.
I turned left and went towards the western tip of the Island, I stopped often to look and take photo’s, I spent a couple of hours walking around Port Wemyss and its lighthouse on the south-western tip. The first thing I saw was this horse
I explored north using my Ordnance Survey map. Im not sure the road even had a name never mind a number, it was a single track road that seemed to service the various farms and through traffic of which there was non usually. It was very quiet and beautiful with a rugged coast line to die for, I stopped often just taking in the sight and sounds. I saw Lapwing, these black and white birds are quite the clown on the wing ducking and diving with each other and showing of their flying skills. When they landed and stood on front of me they proved to be quite the majestic one with their big body and majestic quiff they made a slow rising whistle, they were so acrobatic you couldn’t help but sit and admire.
Port Wemyss and its lighthouse
I just happened to park next to the only pub in the village
These are Belted Gallaway Cattle..normally black with a white belt,
The road twisted and turned across the flat parts, no mountains around here, just gentle sloping lands for the cows and sheep to graze on, the land was fenced off on both sides but that didn’t stop some of the more adventerous characters.
Hardy West Highland cattle AKA….Muckle Coos!
Je Suis Un Rock Star!!
The road reached the edge as it dropped away to the sea, the cliffs here maybe a couple of hundred feet high? I saw some colour on the shingle beach on the bay to my left and decided I would go there too. I turned around as the gate cut back on itself before dropping away to the bay. This was Kilchiaran Bay a pure cobbled beach, I passed through and closed the gate behind me then carried on down to the shingle I crossed the small river and got the trucks chin wet before coming to a halt on the shingle. It was my first timedriving on shingle it felt “wishy washy.”I engaged low gear and moved around getting a feel for it turning going slow and fast, after an hour I pulled onto the grass and brewed a cuppa, before long a family came down from the road, I decided to move on, I re crossed the river and climbed up to the gate and onto the road I re-engaged high gear for normal running…that was fun!
I carried along the single road until I came to the brow of a hill and pulled onto the grass between road and field. Half a dozen Highland cows came over to see me. I know cows are extremely nosey and this is what they do. Both black and browns came over, they all had the magnificent hair and long horns, I brewed another cuppa and spent some time with these guys before moving off. Then I saw an eagle I was sure this time that it wasnt a Buzzard. I was taking care on this trip to get the right name to the right guys, it flew across me and landed in the trees away to my right. I stopped and reached for my binoculars, it was perched in a tree and was long and slim with a shade of grey about him, I dare not look across for my camera because I would have lost sight of him for sure. After a minute I glanced forward to see a farmer waiting patiently in his Land Rover. I put the “bino’s”down and moved on. There was no place to move over here at all! Such a shame. I dropped down off the hills into Port Charlotte again. I decided to go around again only this time I would take the dotted route through the forest. Locating this was difficult as it wasnt signed neither were the farms, all the little squares on the map meant houses so I was able to pinpoint my position, I moved through the gate and took it gently through some fantastic scenery, I passed a peat works, it seems they still cut dry it and burn it here, it’s used as a substitute for coal, we used to do it in England until the meddling EU got involved and had it stopped. I took two bars for home!
The sun was high now and hot, though all around puddles of water sat in the damp heather, I was in the land of the “Midge” I began whispering to myself “don’t wake em up..dont wake em up”! They were not due to fly and bite people until early May I still tip toed all the same.
Through the forest and over open moorland coming every now and again a gate indicating farmers land. after an hour Id come to the road again and the three lounging sheep, I could see some disused buildings on the coastline a few miles away so decided to go have a look, once again gates had to be opened and closed behind me, sheep to be driven round and cows to wait for!
I was soon heading up the narrow road towards the rocky outcrop to the clump of buildings, it got steeper and steeper, the road turned to two narrow concrete strips for vehicles the soil was a good twelve-inch below so care was needed. This was an old military road and intended for the likes of push bikes narrow wheeled Austin lorries and small Morris cars from the 1940’s right up to the 1960 and the vehicles of that period, it wasnt designed for my wide tired modernish Land Rover
I saw the “road” peter out to a dirt track to the left the buildings were on the right I drove to the rocky outcrop but as the track went over the lip curving right. I got out and checked the road ahead.
A Peruvian mountain road…on Islay!
I walked aroud the rocky headland to the right was the huge rocks to the left was lots of fresh air and a sheer drop to the sea below! I leaned out and saw about 2 foot of the underside of the track had fallen away though not recently. I mentally measured how much had gone and decided to drive on, when I got around the headland the view was fantastic.
One could see up the coast for miles and see all of Machir Bay, then the track petered out to a single sheep track! I picked a spot and turned around, carefully! I drove back around the head and stopped to look at the derelict buildings. This used to be RAF Kilchrian and was originally part of the radar network covering Great Britain in WWII, It fell into disuse after the war but as the Cold War loomed it and others were reactivated with modern radar detection equipment called ROTOR, after the end of the Cold War these sites were closed again and most sold off. Here these few building are bricked up except one with an open doorway appear to be used just by sheltering sheep! Whilst I was here I practiced some rough terrain driving, I even drove up a steep hill the blockhouse at the top then reversed back down in low gear and with diff lock engaged.
Jack and Jill went up the hill…..
The road looks OK doesn’t it? WAIT till you go over the edge!!
I spent about an hour here driving up and down the side of the rocky outcrop and in some deep tractor tracks that went to some other buildings on the other hill the only buildings I could recognize, it was the groundstaff toilet block!I turned the truck down the hill and back to the track and the road. Pausing for a cuppa before I set off back to the campsite and tonight tea.
A few more people had arrived at the campsite, I saw a big brown Tee Pee style tent near me with “Ze German”. Six chaps had arrived in two Suzuki Vitara’s, they nodded hello but that was about it, I realized later I was wearing my Panzer Tank shirt! Do you think this may have been the reason of their reluctance to engage with me? Another tent being erected on my other flank by three girls were much more to my taste! They came over for a look at my set up and the truck, especially the fridge! The girls were regular outdoor people and had visited many of the Islands in fact Id never seen a more thumbed “Lonely Planet” book, mine looked hardly used in comparison! We had an evening of chat on the grass patio watching the setting sun cracking a few” tinnies” all the time gradually putting more jumpers on as the temperature began to plummet. two of the girls were working in I.T the other was a primary school teacher, I told them a bit about me and of my old job at the zoo, It was like 20 question! Needless to say it was soon midnight and very cold, we bid each other goodnight and retired to the sack.
The girls and I
Above is the team photo…still wearing the offending Panzer T shirt…Kate is next to me with her sister Francis at the other end and Kathy in the middle. They have the most impressive list of Scottish Island’s visited list and is much along the same idea as I want to do. It was great to meet and chat with them they sounded like they had done a lot together, they were very easy to get on with which was a shame because they were moving on today to lodge in the Youth Hostel. This is how one meets people on such adventures. an evening or a few minutes sharing a journey, a sea,t a story, an experiance even. Funnily enough I was to see them quite by accident the following day on the nearby island of Jura, they were just coming out of the only pub on the island!
After breakfast we said goodbye and off I went. The crossing to Jura although scenic with blue sky and fab views was a torrid affair with a fast flowing 8 knot of water that gushed through the sound, this made the ferry really work for its money
The Paps of Jura.
It really was “just over there” but the über fast current meant effort was required by the ships engines, the two seamen made light work doing it at least six times a day every day! The twin peaks were the prominant feature, the girls last night assured me that the Paps of Jura really do refer to the womans bosom even though in reality there are three but at any given time one can only see two. So here I was, grinning as I got closer to them!
Fellow Jura explorers
The island has only 196 residents at the last count, divide between farmers and fisherman and the one hotel and its staff. There is just the one single track road from the ferry to the only hote,l it goes on for another twenty or thirty miles amongst the most fantastic coastal scenery, the road was so narrow along the edge of the cliff at one point and more than once I thought that’s the end its time to turn around, but it kept going north and I kept going. I met David on the road as he thumbed a lift. ” How far you going mate?” David was touring on his bicycle but it had a puncture, he was carrying from the bike rental shop five miles away a pump, inner tube and a new valve to fix his bike. We chatted a bit until we got to were his bike was and stopped to let him out I waving goodbye I carried on north to the end of the road. It was fantastic but slow going all the way to Lussa Point. Looking at my watch I decided to turn around here and head back because I didn’t want to miss the last ferry back to Islay.
Grey Heron stalks fish amongst the rocks
I saw David again by the road side looking a bit fed up, “Hya mate whats up” I shouted. David said he’s go the wrong bloody valve and motioned that he’s have to walk back to the store for the right sized valve…five or six miles away! I said we’d strap the bike on the roof, moving the camera stuff into the back I made room for him and after a few minutes of strapping the bike on the roof we set off south to the settlement at Craighouse. David turned out to a fascinating well traveled bloke, the sort of person you only meet on such adventures. He’d lived and worked all over the world. He then settled in Scotlands capital whilst his daughter went through her school years until she too felt the urge to travel. David has now picked up where he’d left off years ago… and so today I met him biking across Jura…until the flat tyre! We talked all the way to the settlement. We said goodbye at the bike shop knowing we had only scratched the surface of each others travel stories, if we’d gone into the hotel pub that would have been it for quite a while! so content with a smile and a shake of the hands we parted company….I just wish Id taken a photo!
Watching the Cal Mac ferry sailing to Port Askaig against the strong currents flowing down the sound between the two islands.
I sat on the hillside and watched the ferry coming up the sound, and the serenity all around me. it really is that beautiful I could see me spending time here and I promise I havent touched a drop!
One of three goats sat by the roadside amongst the rocks
It was reaching the time of the last ferry so I packed away the kettle and made my way back. Sitting there on the jetty I watched my little ferry struggle across the sound against the strong current, the seaman told me it was about the norm for this time of year! We were back on Islay in ten minutes. it was then I began to feel the effects of wind burn or sun stroke even, so I head back to the campsite, cooked some food then got wrapped up in as many clothes as I could and hit the sack to ride out the shivering.
I had a sleepless and rotten night to be honest, the slightest breath of wind that filtered into the tent during the night set me off in a shivering frenzy. At dawn I got up this time sitting in my truck for a while. I fired the truck up and drove around the bay where I pulled onto the beach and faced the sun as it began to show itself over the distant headland I switched off and pushed the seat back and dozed for about three hours letting the sun slowly warm me through the glass of the truck. at midday I drove back to the tent and cooked a late breakfast. I was really worn out but at least the shivering had stopped and I felt a little better. In the afternoon I set off to visit a distillery at the other end of the island, this was the house of Ardbeg and the only whiskey I’ve ever taken a shine to, thanks to Black Bart pointing me in the right direction one night.
I couldn’t really miss it could I?
Yes its a working distillery and they are keen to show people what they do, I have a bottle at home and know how potent it is so declined a dram especialy in my condition, Id soon be in the bloody ditch! To be fair I had one or two on the ferry before I landed a few days ago. I know the roads are fairly deserted but they are extremely narrow and have no pavement edges to bounce you back on the road, no Id just end up on my side in the peat bog or get pulled by the only cop on the island.
I enjoyed the visit but bought nothing, it looked so expensive! Shirts and jumpers even a nice leather motorbike and helmet with the Ardbeg logo stitched or printed nice but no thanks!
I drove a while to another bay and pulled onto the shingle I felt the need to doze for a bit. When I woke I made a cuppa and sat mulling about my plans for the last day, I had changed my return sailing to 07,00hrs, I was going to island hop and get to the mainland near Ayr. I could get home in one day even in the speedy Land Rover! This meant I would have to get up at 05.00 to drop the tent, pack away and drive the 30 minutes along narrow roads get to the port for 06.30, I had decided to into book into a hotel for the last night. I still wasnt feeling on top form and my stomach was beginning to churn and make funny noises so I decided I would spend the last two nights in the hotel. I cut a deal with the lady and booked into the hotel at Bridgend then drove around the bay to the campsite to pack everything away and was back in a couple of hours I had food in the bar before I settled into the room. I had a shower then got in bed with the heater on and turned on the TV. I was just in time to watch two of England’s most popular TV “Soaps” Emmerdale Farm and Coronation St. I just couldn’t be bothered to get out of bed and turn it off instead I lay there and watched it. Oh what bloody rubbish! Corriand its dire Manc charecters left me wanting to reach for the razor to slit my wrists! As for Emmerdale it was just so slow and boring and full of dim witless characters. How the hell millions of people tune in an watch these top programmes is beyond me. but it seems they do, and in their millions. I guess Im just thankful that fakkin Eastenders wasnt on, I would have chucked myself out of the bedroom window for sure! The drama that followed telling the story about Tommy Cooper was also gloomy and dark, eventually I took my wet fingers out of the plug socket and drifted off to sleep.
Morning came after another restless night, I went to breakfast then back up to the bathroom…the stomach churning movement had began with venom! I waited a long while before setting off for the day. I would visit a military cemetery Id read about. It was on the west coast about an hours drive away, took spare trousers and my wash stuff just in case! I had no drama en-route to my destination,I parked up and from the roadside I could see about half a mile away on the cliff top overlooking the sea a tall white stone sword that marked military resting places around the world.
British and Commonwealth Military cemetary Kilchoman
It was on 6 October 1918 when a troop ship called HMS Otranto collided with another troopship in poor visibility and in rough seas just off the coast from when I was now standing, She was holed forward and in the heavy swell, began to loose way. The stricken ship then hit rocks and became grounded. With the heavy seas pounding her continually against the rocks the ship eventually broke up and sank with the loss of 431 lives (351 American troops and 80 British crew members). A number of Americans and crew were saved by a convoy escort and were taken to Belfast, Ireland. Many of the survivors were hospitalised there until eventual transfer to England. The American servicemen were exhumed and repatriated to the United States in 1920. The cemetery is now the final resting place of 73 British sailors. I read a couple of the inscriptions on the head stones quite a few said very little, Im sure metal ID tags were not in use during WWI so many bodies could not be identified and lay in graves marked UNKNOWN SAILOR or words similar.
Six months earlier another troop ship was also lost off these islands. This time by enemy action. The American vessel SS Tuscania was torpedoed by UB-77 with the loss of over 160 lives and now lies in deep water 4 miles west of the Mull of Oa just fifteen miles away. A monument was erected by the American Red Cross to commemorate the sinking of these two ships. It must have come as a harsh shock to the folk of Islay, true they had sent dozens of men off to war but maybe this was their first taste of it, regarding the Otranto incident I’ve read some remarkable accounts of farmers wading into the surf to rescue drowning and injured soldiers in fact one young farmer saved three souls using a broom handle to reach them in the surf. It fell to the Police Sargeant to collate all the information and prepare the necessary reports an immense task as you could probably imagine. He took the job personally to write to the dead soldiers families in America having recovered paybooks and some other documents/letters from many of the bodies. Some folk wrote back with information hoping it may identify their missing loved ones like birth marks, wedding rings a cross, a special watch. It must have been atough time for the islanders. The US soldiers never made it to the battlefields of France drowning instead in the icy cold waters here between Ireland and Scotland
I stood for a while looking at the beautiful coastline in a moment of reflection looking out to sea then back to the green fields at the lady farmer driving her tractor inspecting her cattle and the baby calf’s Life goes on….
Its not just Spring lambs at Easter
For the pony trekkers its just another windy day!
It was time to move on now and enjoy the rest of my last day. An enforced stop tok place once or twice throughout the day as “it” gripped me, Im putting it down to the plain old simple “McTrotts” Though it did linger for a full week so may have been a virus? Thankfully the island is a very quiet place very wild with with lots of low walls. At one point I stood on the cliffs trouserless letting the bracing wind blow through me, it was quite a liberating feeling I have to admit! When things calmed down I drove to Saligo Bay to feast my eyes on yet another beautiful sandy bay, the sun was hot and high, the sky bluer than blue and the wind was relentless! I had my bush hat on and the big coat over my Land Rover fleece. I felt wrapped up enough! Navigating my way with the Land-Ranger map I soon reached the spot intended and I secured the truck before making my way on foot to the bay. The waves came in fast to crash on the headland, the wind was blowing hard to create some fine white horses, in fact it was blowing so hard the tops turned to spray.
White Horses at Saligo Bay
The views were fab and uncluttered of people I saw just one group of people about half a mile away making their way to the sea down a path otherwise there was nobody in sight.
I decided to drive to Loch Gruinart and another huge bay only this time it was an RSPB site, Islay is one of the first islands that migrating birds come to on their long adventures and the bay is a huge safe haven for them, lots of grassy land, sand bars and mud flats, there were more people here, I saw perhaps a dozen or so and these guys had only eyes for the birds. I drove right to the end, a sign said “suitable only to farm vehicles” This meant me! I drove on through the dunes coming to a halt at Ardnave Point. The inland lake was occupied by a dozen or so Greylag Geese, I came over the crest to see the big geese take off slowly, deliberatly, gracefully flying a short curve to the other end of the lake. It was a lovely sight to witness. Black and white Oyster Catchers were here by the dozen too as were the brown long nosed Curlew, a longer camera lens would have been welcomed!
It was now late on Monday evening and my time on Islay was sadly coming to a close. I retired to the hotel and packed my holdall and paid my rent for the two days. Relaxing on the bed comfortable in the thought that the toilet was a mere sparrow fart in the corner! My only concern was traveling on the motorway in my condition where the service stations were approx twenty miles or so apart…Id used up the box of Imodium as prescribed I guess we shall see how things are in the morning
My phone got me up, at least it worked as an alarm clock, Id had mixed results during my stay, here in the hotel Id got internet connection but no phone, how mad is that so I spoke to Julie briefly via Facebook. I was up out and on the road by 06.00hrs I had to be at the port in thirty minutes, Id make it easy enough and had I just sipped water, as I had done now for two days. Hopefully that and the Imodium will halt any movement! The dock was a small simple affair, I trundled down the road into the truck park and waited. I figured I should be over the other side so began reversing up and round the road to the earlier junction in order to switch to the car lane. Suddenly BANG!! I was so shocked, from out of the mirror I saw nothing, glancing in the other mirror and saw the big fook off trailer. I was concentrating on just one side trying not to hit the high concrete curb edge and missed seeing the trailer. I jumped out to see my ladder was bent and had pushed the roof in and forward a bit, the spare wheel had pushed into the back door bending it in and breaking the window. I pushed and pulled at it, it was still secured, all the electrics were fine and working, no lights out, I would carry on. I was so angry at myself but what could I do it was done. I had three ferries to use then drive all the way home. I would suck it up and bash on…hopefully not literally!
The two hr ferry back to Kintyre was without problem, I dozed practically the whole way, then drove the sixteen miles across the headland to the next small jetty and onto another small ferry for the thirty minute trip across to Arran it was cold but without incident, the weather was overcast this morning, once there I drove another twenty miles to the other side of Arran and caught the bigger ferry to the Scottish mainland, I was the last vehicle aboard and the huge black bow doors shut as I climbed down, I went to the bar for soda water and a packet of shortcake. I got my feet up for the one hour crossing. Then I was there and driving onto the shores at Androssan. The sun burst through the cloud and things brightened up. I found the Edinburgh road and drove on towards the beautiful small town of Strathhaven, the motorway was just a few miles away, I was soon driving down the ramp onto the M74 and going south, I stopped at the first service station to use the amenities before getting my head down for another couple of hours. The truck was still OK, the door was firmly locked.
I woke up feeling a bit better and took a drink, topped up with fuel and carried on. Passing Carlisle then Penrith then of the motorway onto the A66 for the run to Scotch Corner and the A1. I stopped again at the services for the usual before pushing on for the last ninety minute section, the roads had been fairly empty so I was having a good trouble-free run.
Looking like “Death warmed Up”!
Though by the look on my face in the above photo you’d think different eh? I took it just before I set off from Scotch Corner. Oh my God I look like somebody from Emmerdale Farm!
I got home with no drama and a relatively stable stomach. It was now Tuesday evening, I went on to feel the effects of the McTrotts for a total of seven days then took another week to fully recover. Id had lost three-quarters of a stone too!
Julie dismantled the truck
Everything worked well on tour I came back with some ideas of stuff to change The truck is sat waiting now for a couple of new replacement panels to be sprayed. Julie unscrewed all the shelves and we have done some adjusting and “fettling” In a few days it will be as god as new and ready for the next adventure in a couple of weeks.