The Western Highlands of Scotland…March 2017

Morning all,

Climb in we are just about to go, Scotland here we come! My red 90 has moved on if you didn’t already know, in its place we have a more modern (2014) Land Rover Defender 110, 2.2 Puma, wehad it converted to live in at the end of summer 2016 and have been slowly getting used to it, the tent has also gone! Life has to get a bit easier to accommodate both our aching bodies I reach 60 this year. My birthday will actually be spent on a Spanish south coast camp prior to catching the ferry to Morocco as it happens! This new investment should be a much more user-friendly way of adventuring and this coming week I will put the sleeping out bit to the test! I had decided to follow some of the new Scottish tourist attraction.. The North Coast 500.. It’s a route invented on roads already there and takes in the Scottish Highland and the coast starting at Inverness heading west through the mountains to the West coast than following it North.. then East before turning South following the coast all the way back to Inverness, I intended deviate here and there to explore new places.

Saturday morning aout about 09.30 with a nod to the cat a kiss and a wave to Julie and we rolled of the drive. This time last year it was up to to Orkney with the Oz tent and that damned wind! So strong it was that it eventually it did for me and bent the tent poles so badly it cut that adventure short, it was the arrival on site as I was leaving of an old 110 from the 1970’s with its rudimentary on board sleeping arrangements got me thinking…..

Up the A1 I went to the road widening at Leeming Bar and a steady 50mph to the exit at Scotch Corner and onto the A66 across to Penrith, the weather was mild and pleasant so far with a build up of clouds on the western horizon, the A66 ran high and pretty soon I encountered low grey cloud and rain but not much traffic at all which is always good on the A66 which is normally dotted with large trucks and farm tractors and no place to pass except for the few miles of dual carriageway when it turns into a race as EVERYONE goes faster trying to pass everyone else!

The M6 was just as empty as I drove onto it at Penrith, the truck was going great and was soon in the cruiser gear, yes a Land Rover with a cruiser gear how modern is that? After Carlisle the weather turned grey as the motorway began its very long uphill climb the road had turned into the A74M now the high mountains on either side turned the radio reception to a hissy mush as it always does here. Higher we climbed as we made our way up and through Annadale. Looking in the mirror I thought I saw a longer whiter cloud snaking through the forest? I looked again and for a bit longer trying to figure it out glancing to the left side I could see the railway track, “aha! its a steam train” I said to myself. The road was really empty so was able to look a bit longer, I pulled off and took a photo with the I-phone as it chuffed by, I could feel its beating heart as it hauled up the incline the long deep bellow, the thrusting pistons pushed and pulled hard. “Wow will you just look at that” I said to myself I hurried on ahead looking for the next turn off I wanted a closer look, so too it seems did a few dozen more folk as a dozen or more vehicles appeared at the old brick railway bridge.

Folk stood waiting in the wind a few minutes before dashing back to their cars for coats, me included! The engine had stopped down the line to let the modern express trains speed by unimpeded, soon four modern express trains came rushing past before the white cloud came into view a mile away. I had found a spot behind an old building out of the wind and just yards from the line.

                                                    Here she comes!

 

                                         Coming coming!

 

                                                Coming Coming Gone!

I tried to look for a name on the side of the engine but it didn’t seem to have one, I was never a train spotter, I assumed the name if it had one would have been at the cab? The carriages were full of people looking out I could see old frilly lampshades on the tables and some tied back curtains, I asked a few people but all had pulled off the motorway like me and had no idea either. Oh well name or no name it was a wonderful sight to see, smell and actually feel and a welcome distraction from the dullish motorway journey to which I now returned and further north I pushed.

As I neared Glasgow I latched onto the signs for the airport and the Erskine Bridge to guide me over the city getting me where I need to be. From the bridge usually the mountains could be seen but not today as the low cloud and light drizzle blocked the usual stupendous views that tickled even the most seasoned visitor. topping up with fuel at Dumbarton and taking a break as Id been on the move for about 4 hrs now before I took to the high road up the side of Loch Lomond, it was very narrow in parts and you had the choice of drowning in the loch or ripping your sides open on the close and jagged rock face, oh yes and the occasional rocks stones and god forbid, boulders that the rains always loosened on the A82. To say this is one of just two main trunk roads heading north on the  its pretty crap, the government really should do better and get some bloody money invested up here! It’s no wonder Scotland feels the way it does. The only improvement/investment I’ve seen is the bypass around Crainlarich, a twee village with an important T junction and a narrow railway bridge where the road dips under the railway and always fills with water!

Just further up and I can see “The Green Welly” a famous stop with a pub, hotel, 4 fuel pumps a mini supermarket and few shops. Now its getting bigger with more shops and eateries springing up. Turning off at Tyndurm now and Im looking for a suitable place to stop for the night, this part of this adventure is totally new to me, Ive read up on it, asked a few people and kinda got the idea Im in Glen Lochy now on a little side road with little sign of people I spotted a few camper vehicles here and there by the river, I didn’t want to pull over near them so looked for my own bit of privacy and tranquility and to bugger about with stuff on my own. Pretty soon I decided on a spot and shuffled into “X marks the spot” I was well off the road and sheltered by some trees and well on the banks of the River Orchy, it looked good to me.

 

                                                              Grampian Mountains

 

                                                     The River Orchy in the twilight

                 Dinner tonight is chicken curry and rice and a Fosters…sorted!

Popping the roof was the easy part, undo three straps and up it goes on its own, cooking outside, in fact anything outside was the same as before, getting the bed sorted was like playing dominos with the different shaped boards and cushions and has to be done in a certain order or it just doesn’t work and very unfamiliar to me at this point! Eventually I worked it out and got my boots off and closed the door hey I even put up the curtains! I knew the first time (or first few times) would be a bit of a “faf” and it certainly was as I faffed about for ages and I got bloody cramp too at one point Oh For Fukc Sake! I shouted kicking my leg straight in an effort to head the cramp off! I laid there laughing at myself a few minutes before completing tonight’s round of “Its a Knockout” I peeled off my clothes and slipped into my sleeping bag….aaannd rest!  Note to self, the other person must sit up front or wait outside whilst bed building and /or cooking inside or worse still,  faffing about in the back! This week Julie had dodged the trip knowing how I perform with summat new…bull in a china shop springs to mind! I do like my own company at times too. Anyway all was soon sorted and dozed, the strip lights are very bright and great for cooking and doing late night stuff the corner spotlights are brill for reading and keeping the light low. I turned on the truck radio and listened to Jo Wiley on BBC2 for an hour before lights out

I woke to the sound of rushing river water daylight and singing blackbirds, I opened the back door unzipped the bag and shuffled out, spotting a couple of Deer halfway up yonder hill. Oh yes this is the way forward I said, pleased with myself, even the midnight pee was easy, just open the side door slither to the end stand on the truck rock slider bar and let it go whilst hanging totally nekked one handed to the roof rack like some old Orangutan! Not sure how wifey is gonna tackle this issue yet tho.

 

                                    Morning and time to air the sleeping bag 

After morning ablutions and stashing shovel, bog paper and hand sanitizer away I started on the new pack of wet wipes after which I felt fresh and ready for the day, I did breakfast cooking bacon sausage and beans, its funny how cooked breakfast tastes so much better outside. After eating I cleaned and stowing away the cooking stuff then set about the reverse process of doing away with the cushions and boards and folding away awning, first unclasping the canvas then pushing the two outrigger arms to the truck I wrapped the canvas in and fastened with the velcro. a simple job made hard by my faffing about. Y’see its all about technique and I hadn’t got it..yet! I agreed with myself that it was easier than the Ozz tent especially the lugging it all on and off the truck roof daily.

Turning the key The engine shook into life I pulled back onto the single track road and toddled off down the road leaving nothing but bread crumbs. It wasn’t long before I was back on the A82 and back on the NW500 route, the clock said 09.00hrs. Oh what a great day ahead!

 

This little fella is my M.A.G Bear, he’s been with me all over Europe in the 80’s and 90’s on the motorbike, Julie found him recently during one of her clear outs.

 

                                                   A shrouded Glen Coe

                   Low cloud but still a great looking scenario..Loch Garry.

I was going through Glen Coe with low cloud so no great photos this time Im afraid, Fort William was quiet too, I tried to get fuelled up quickly I wanted to get ahead of that bloke over there, he was a 4×4 pulling a large and wide caravan, top speed for him was only making around 40mph and Id been behind him for the last half hour, we were neck and neck at the pumps and pulled out together I failed to catch his eye and he pulled out first I had to wait a while for a chance to take him, I recalled a long uphill straight towards the Commando Memorial so set myself up for the pass there. Once past him I got my foot down a bit and made better progress.

I stopped for a coffee and a break at the viewing point overlooking Loch Garry an hour later, I had made good progress after the caravan that I decided to take the short cut up and over the mountains to Applecross on a challenging single track road. I turned off the A87 onto the A890, Pulling over at the shop/fuel pump at Lochcarron only to find it shut..”Aha Its Sunday” I muttered so not much is open on Sundays in the quiet Highland villages especially on these out of the way roads. The little turn came into view, I indicated left and turned my nose up the mountainside. taking the long zig zags, the corners were not too bad and I could get round in one go I saw they had chiselled into the rock and made the corners a bit wider.Though the last three or four hairpins were still the same and still make this road unsuitable to motorhomes and caravans and bad for those with weak hearts!

 

                                                 Applecross is up there!

 

                         Passing places where every hundred yards of so 

 

    Having just done the last couple of hairpins and now sat at the top

I think I saw perhaps four vehicles in the last hour and all on this mountainside. Cresting the top I was met with brilliant blue sky and sunshine for the slowly descending road to the other coastline and Applecross a few miles ahead, in between the clouds I could just make out the huge mountains on Skye. Originally I kinda planned that I was going to stop here but it was mid afternoon and was able to carry on a few hours on the coast road, another plus with this vehicle was no need to stop in daylight to set up camp, the plusses were mounting up!

 

                                     Rassay Island though the distant rains

 

 

Another rain squall or two about to blow in from across Inner Sound

 

    On the coast road from Applecross, the road is so small it doesn’t have a        number on my map.

 

Scotland is promoting its spectacular scenic routes along a collection of roads now called the North Coast 500, basically it follows the coast roads all around the Scottish Highlands, something I’ve been doing for yrs on my own.

This twenty-mile coast drive around the headland is most spectacular and well worth the short cut up and over the mountain. Pretty soon Im back on the mainland and passing the large picturesque village of Shieldaig. I began looking at possible camp spots and chose another headland spot, reversing into a small clearing in the bare beech trees, I saw the remains of stone ringed camp fires, I hadn’t been the first to stop here overnight! I got the table out and got the Coleman Cooker going, this is a brill cooker that runs on petrol and ideal to use in windy conditions, a beef stew with potatoes was soon on the go. I left it while dusk to actually get the bed made, once again I saw very little traffic, three cars I think and one happy walker who was raising money for the RNLI. My view tonight out over the bay was fab warm and sunny. I was very happy tonight!

Morning for me was another late one and so didn’t pull back onto the tarmac till 09.30.  I slept the other way round as I had back ache last night so with my head to the rear this time I slept and felt tons better, thinking perhaps we will get some of those sleeping mats as the various sponge sections were not comfy enough for my taste. Thats the first niggle ironed out!

I was now on another single track road heading up Beinn Eighe a nice wide valley with  a wide expanse of heather and gorse to either side it was so boggy under foot, water seeped thru and often came up to mid calf as I found out on my last visit! I tried for a fill up  at the next hamlet an hour up the road but it too was closed as was the shop next door, most village outlets seemed to have very limited opening hours out of season hence I try to top up with fuel more frequently because I choose to explore off the beaten track leaveing the 500 route to take interesting little detours.

 

                                                           Just looking..

 

                                                    Distant snow-capped peaks

 

                                          Not so distant snow-capped peaks

 

                                      Id seen a few of these signs today

 

Id seen a few interesting signs today by the fresh tarmac, I wondered was it true or just propaganda? listening to BBC Scotland Id heard the news about the chess game playing out between Nicola S and our own rat Theresa M, “Politics is not a game” she tried to tell the Scots, oh I think it bloody well is woman! Flicking through the channels I tried for some lighter entertainment. Saturday afternoons on the BBC Scotland is very entertaining especially when commenting on the footi, those three guys are not coy with their opinions and are always laughing their heads off and taking the p*ss out of each other, always talking over each other too. Im SURE they are in a secret pub, honestly it’s so entertaining! I have to admit that I do dash a bit to get round the mountain to get better reception when listening to these guys.

Finally the single track road rejoined the (A832?) main trunk road with two lanes whoo! Driving up alongside the shore of Loch Maree Im now heading towards Loch Ewe on another peninsular. Id topped up and had another leg stretch before deciding to leave the 500 again. Im actually leaving the Sat Nav on drive mode so I can see exactly where I am in relation to the map and is helpful as many small hamlets are not on the map! I follow a dotted yellow line with my finger, it went for about a dozen miles before petering out at a place called Cove aha this route appealed to me!

It was so picturesque with its back drop of green hills dotted white-painted small houses and farm and small holdings, small boats and launches sat moored up or lay upturned on the shingle often I see fish farming cages up and down the inlets, one was farming shell-fish. Pretty soon old square dull unpainted concrete building catch my eye and I pull over, they are old military installations or should I say the remains of. I always find these things of interest as they all tell a story well actually its living history as our grand parents will testify. The bay I was driving around used to be a gathering point for the many merchant ships about to set sail for Murmansk in Russia, would you believe we were allies during WWII? The ships had to be protected against enemy aircraft so 75 years ago anti-aircraft guns used to sit bolted to these concrete squares that Im now stood on. I saw a few more as I drove right to the end of the track I had to stop a few times to let the sheep come by me, On one occasion one time a dozen decided to run after me bleating and blowing kisses! It seems I had the same coloured Defender as the farmer who came along with feed for his girls, who looked at bit sheepish at their mistake…..

 

                                                          My fan club.. 

 

                                    Firemore Sands, sight of old WWII gun battery 

 

                                            I wasnt alone on the beach…

Waving at the girls I carried on up the track, its amazing how many such little dwellings are dotted around, some are holiday lets, some are small farms and some are 24/7 residents The track petered out at a cluster of more old WWII concrete buildings right at the very head of the peninsular. This was the main complex in its day with more gun pits searchlights and observation bunkers, signs a plenty warning of dangerous buildings, I stepped in for a look at history and the huge view out of the gun slits.

 

                                                      Two views over  Loch Ewe 

 

                            Remains of The Artillery Battery HQ at Cove head

 

 .            Remembering merchant seamen lost on the Russian convoys

 

                                              Left by surviving Merchant seamen of WWII

 

                       Note the light grey stone with “Thank you” in Russian

 

There must be thousands of memorials in far-flung places all over the world, it’s always something to set you thinking of how terrible war is for everyone. I spent a while here before moving off, another farmer came to see what I was up to, just looking after his interest after all I could have been sheep rustling, I waved he nodded back happy I wasnt.

I drove back down the track to the main road and carried on my journey up and down the crags and nooks of the North West Highlands I was now back on the 500 route and on up to the famous fishing village of Ullapool. Famous to me because an old navy man told me that Ullapool was a shelter for Russian fishing trawlers against the rougher conditions, he said “If you go up there on your travels you will see loads of Russians, they even get a bus up to Inverness and buy all sorts from ARGOS, they even bought a car once, strapping to the deck of a fishing boat”…. Yeah right Fukc off Mick!”  was my reply, Mick was a great practical joker. Later that year I was in Ullapool and sat on a bench having a coffee taking in the views across the inlet, I saw a couple of huge trawlers…Russians! Some noisy blokes in bulky old clothes passed me speaking in…Russian!  Well I don’t believe what Im hearing Mick you were telling the truth after all. That was back around 1990 ish. Mick left the job and got involved in some small fast boats in Northern France, he was a small boat engineer in the RN so right up his street I suppose?  Anyway I never saw him again. So it was getting on the wind was really howling now and everything had turned a dirty grey, it was 17.00hrs and about that time to start looking for somewhere to park up.

I went on for a while before turning up another little white single track road along another peninsular weaving in and out of lochs and around craggy headlands. soon the rocky land turned as flat as a fart and the wind was getting even stronger the rain was going from vertical to horizontal, I drove for the beach but it was too open and was blowing really hard off the sea so carried on a bit more waiting for the black goats to shift out of my way. Passing yet another small loch I saw a gap in a sparse group of Birch trees and thought it looked pretty good for me, this was reinforced by evidence of a fire and some faint tyre tracks, it was fairly sheltered too by the hill to my side and the bare trees to my front. Tonight I would leave the awning wrapped up, I for the table out and cooked dinner in the lee of the wind, it wasnt that cold just bloody windy and a bit wet now and again.

 

Trees to the front trees to the rear and a hill to my back, the track just twenty yards away, a good spot for tonight I think.

It was a rocky night I don’t mind admitting, Mother Nature gave the Defender a good shaking all night, I was so glad I wasnt in the old Oz tent and lay there content! At 05.30 in the pale light I got dressed. put the table cooker and chair back inside, dropped the roof and simply drove away! I drove until I got to a sheltered cove about an hour further on and set up for breakfast and the morning rituals.

 

Its 05,30hrs on the craggy windswept rain-lashed coastline of North-West Scottish Highlands and why the fook am I whispering??…..

 

Braced against the truck to take the photo, I felt it slowly rolling forward the wind was that strong, I had the hand brake on a couple of notches but clearly it wasnt enough!

 

 .         Waiting for the rain squall to pass before cooking brekki.

 

It doesn’t really matter what the time is, what is important is how you spend it, and right now I was spending a penny or perhaps a bit more.. it was now that I saw the eagle as it also took a dump from above and ahead of me, I was so glad I was not under that string of shyte coming down. My pal Mark Lovell would be laughing his socks off at this scene, Ive been very unlucky NOT to have spot an Eagle so far in my stips up here and today I see one and all I have in my hand is bog roll!!

I settled down after cookin to a couple of bacon rolls and a large coffee.Oh this was great, the smell of crispy bacon and strong coffee as the rare blue sky got brighter! I looked at the map for today route Id gone off the 500 again last night but was looking at re-joining it at Lochinvar a small coastal village Id also visited back in the 90’s no doubt I will recognize anything! Not even the pub I stayed in over-night would I notice. It had really changed and had newer buildings and a newly laid road, I didn’t recognize anything! I stopped on the outskirts to ring Julie, so far Id had sporadic tinternet and was hit and miss with the phone too.

 

                                                                 Shiney bonnet!

 

 .                            Benches grow in the most magnificent places!

After our morning chat I waited an hour for the clouds and rain to blow over before taking the above photo, even with the sun directly ahead I got a worthy shot with some setting adjustments on the camera. So now I began to recollect a motorbike journey up here but it was nearly 30 years earlier and in awful misty conditions, I remember rolling over the crest of a hill to seeing a caravan and the most whitest beach. Lochinvar I recognised not one jot, I didn’t even see the pub I stayed at! Oh well things change eh?  On saying that I crested a hill presently and saw the beach but the caravan had been replaced by a dozen or so mobile caravans on a large campsite and a couple of grand new houses…probably belonging to the various owners of the few businesses here, one even had a swimming pool, why the fook they had a swimming pool installed when the Atlantic Ocean was just a hundred yards away it was beyond me, perhaps its snobbery or a status symbol perhaps?

I took my camera stuff down to the beach from the parking area and spent an hour or two there just sat watching the sea-birds.. the mad loud crashing surf and….the seal.   He was more interested in what I was doing and kept stretching up above the surf to get a better look at me.

 

                                                                Hey up!

 

                                                      Lovely Oyster Catcher

 

 .             Crashing waves, soon I was licking sea salt off my own face!

 

                                                         Crash Bang Wallop!

 

                                                  More crashing waves!

 

                        The circle of life is complete for this poor girl

 

On the beach I was surprised to see a dead sheep half covered by the blowing sands, on the headland as I took more shots I was surprised to come across another dead sheep, her eyes had already been pecked out by the sea-birds, I think it was a very recent death because I saw no other deterioration as usual there was nobody around and I wasn’t about to start knocking on doors as the sheep was clearly dead in fact I hardly saw anyone walking about in any of the villages up here except for the few farmers out working or the building contractors. Im sure Mr Farmer would come across this poor girl at some point today?

 

                                                Animal friendly Rangers hut…naturally!

 

Back at the parking I turned the truck into the wind before  raising the roof and put the kettle on Ah yes Im getting happier by the day at my new truck! after lunchtime coffee and a butti I secured the roof again and carried on along my journey.

My route today took me off the NW 500 yet again as I literally hugged the coastline, at Drumbeg I pulled over again and looked at Nature at work shaping our coastline!

 .    A selection of coast properties , the oldest being on the far right.

 

Parked here purely by accident and never saw the sign, honest Guv…….

It was amusing to see the sign behind the truck on my return from my little walk. Maybe overnight parking is a problem in the warmer months with folk parking without thought. Today I may have seen a dozen vehicles altogether, one of those was a middle-aged Dutch couple in their Suzi Impretzu.

Round the next corner I saw some of my fave cows, the Scottish Muckle coo! Such a glamorous rock star of a beast especially as the howling winds swished their long hair across their cool faces!

 

                                               How can you not love these guys?

The track began to take me back inland now and by mid afternoon I had re-joined the NC500 heading still further North. The clouds had cleared to reveal long spells of bright sunshine and blue skies and yet another tiny track beckoned me away from the 500. “Oh go on then”  I said indicating left and explored another peninsular. I hadn’t gone far when a fireman stopped me, “Sorry sir but you will have to wait there is a helicopter on the road…..” Indeed there was a helicopter on the road, a big red and white thing belonging to HM Coastguard sat humming loudly a hundred yards away! “No worries mate you carry on I’ve got all day” I said and turned my engine off to wait. The nearby ambulance was treating someone before they transferred them to the helo which then lifted off, this all took about an hour. when I passed the spot I saw no evidence of an accident or anything so it was all a bit of a puzzle.

 

 

 

       Up up and away with the patient, soon to be at the far away hospital

 

This peninsular was covered fairly quickly with not a lot of staggering views from the track and not many sheep to say hello to, I could see from my map that it was another single track road that ended at the last house, I had paused here at Kinlochbervie which had a small commercial harbour fire station and ambulance AND a Spar shop which I visited for a few rounds of bread for the following morning, I paused at the striking memorial in the fishing village to a soldier from WWI who received the Victoria Cross for his brave deeds before emigrating to Canada and joined their police force unfortunately he was shot dead by a drunken American, I went on to the end of the track about 8 miles away at Balchreick with just 4 or 5 white houses. There were four such villages along this track, but not villages as we know, more like 10 or more properties spread out though in eyesight and nr the track, no shops or anything at all, The shop earlier was typical of the Northern Highlands in that it was an old fashioned mini supermarket with the essentials and nearly always a Spar franchise. Fifty miles south was Ullapool with was a small town in size and had slightly more amenities, here is where folk would come if they want to do a “big shop” I suppose?

Cape Wrath was my target for today and a place I’ve quite fancied visiting for a long time after seeing at once on BBC Springwatch. Cape Wrath is at the very left hand tip of Scotland, being just off the NC500 route by about 3 miles. Durness is the nearest village and the Spar shop was the largest so far and was actually open. It also had two 24hr fuel pumps! This is handy to know being on the NC500 but you have to keep your eyes peeled it’s not the usual glamorous glowing neon forecourt, its just two slim pumps under a wooden awning with an old repair garage and craft shop set further from the road I counted five old Land Rovers parked here. So off I went to the Cape a few miles away up to the tip of North West Scotland, at the end was a ruin of a church and cemetery a massive house stood nearby it looked empty but I noticed the windows were in excellent nick, just no curtains or any sign of life which was the same for many of the older houses they just looked devoid of life and as usual nobody was around, occasionally Id see a few garment on the washing line a they waved frantically in the wind but other than that these places looked very quiet!

                                    North West Highland shoreline

 

                                                                     Cape Wrath

 

                                Remains of the Church at Cape Wrath

 

                                                    Cape Wrath cemetery 

At Cape Wrath a small old camper van was just leaving after visiting, another couple were out on the beach with their dog other than that it was very quiet. I saw the golf club just around the headland but just had one small car in the car park. An information sign explained about the area saying it was under MOD control ( Ministry of Defence) and the sea here for 12 miles was a bombing and live firing range the RAF and the Royal Navy. The sign also went on to explain how the are is a sight of rare fauna and is looked after by the MOD, a slightly odd sign I thought. The few photos of RAF aircraft and RN warships had been scratched with a nail of a knife or something and was badly gouged. I drove back to Durness and topped up again, every day I put up to £40 in the tank as was my habit in the Highlands. though twice now I had come across 24 hr card pumps so maybe I need not keep topping up in future? It was 17.00hrs now so decided to carry on, I was at the very North and the NC500 ran east now along the Northern coastline and by no means did it run in a straight line! A deep and wide finger of water stabbed inland which the road followed. Going 2 or 3 miles east actually took me an hour and 15 miles, that’s how it is following the coastline up here, the road number is A838 by the way. Lock Errboll was now behind me as more rain squalls appeared from out to sea and head towards me.

 

 

                         Sangobeg and Smoo on the Northern Coastline

Another hour I drove and began looking for my nest for the night, the land here was very bleak and treeless. At the loch around the corner I saw something suitable maybe? it was a small spit of land jutting into the Loch with a house and some stone outbuildings at the end of it, on the grass were four green mobile homes  but they seemed to be boarded up and secured for the winter, a boat was on its trailer and parked at the side of the house which really did look derelict, and old 4×4 was tucked away behind the boat too, its rear window wa smashed, I assumed this was used to move the boat to and from the water? I had a really good look before deciding it was ok to park up on the grass by the stone walls of the derelict outbuildings out of sight and well away from the road. I was just sat looking around when I saw another Defender had just pulled onto the spit of land, the occupants had stopped and were observing me with binoculars, I saw it had an awning and a roof tent attached, I thought they might have driven over to say either, “private property pal you can’t park here” Or “Hello do you mind if we park here too?” they did neither, they just sat a while watching before turning around and driving off. I thought it a bit odd and I felt it didn’t quite feel right so decided Id move on after all.

Another hour rolled on as dusk began to settle when I saw a small track of the road and disappear down behibd a fold in the ground and round to a barely visible container I had a look, it was in fact a Scottish Water unit on a hard standing. I decided this was an “arrive late leave early” place to stay.  I got the truck level and popped the roof and got on with cooking tea, I would leave the bed until darkness came, just in case I got asked to move on.

What about campsites you may ask? Its Scotland and wild camping is OK so long as you stick to the basics like arrive late leave early and leave nothing behind take your rubbish and dispose of when you see a refuse bin, we have driven many miles in the past with a full bag of rubbish on board so that was easy enough to put up with. I had finished tea when a farmer drove by on his quad loaded with a couple of bales of straw for the sheep, he was so wrapped up against the elements he just gave me a quick look and a nod I could only see his eyes and cheeks he could have been a young lad or a woman I really had no idea. I waited a while just in case someone turned up to move me on but nobody did. Like Ive already said Im new to this kind of camping so am being a bit cautious, I’ve read the published articles on tinterweb and spoke with folk who have had more experience at wild camping in the Scottish Highlands, being unobtrusive keeping a low profile and leave no trace being seems to be the accepted practice.

I ran out of water this evening, I have a built-in water tank but the water level had dropped  below the pump line and it could draw no more up to the sink. I had half a bottle in the front that would do for tea tonight, several cans of Fosters and some cans of Red Bull in the fridge, so first task in the morning is to find drinking water, Id probably have to drive to the large to and busy Thurso twenty miles ahead, I know it and remembered a few garages.

So I put the boards and square cushions in place, Id not bothered with the awning tonight, Id earlier washed up and they were now stowed back in the cupboard. I was stretched out on the unzipped bag with one lamp on, the window curtains were fitted and was tucked away, I was quite happy. I wrote done some stuff in the blog book and listened to BBC2 and Jo Wiley again. I awoke about four with a thirst but the last of the water was gone so I had a can of Red Bull… Funnily enough I couldnt get back to sleep! I dozed and rolled this way and rolled that way So eventually thought “bugger this” It was 05.30 I would get packed away and take a drive to Thurso, the garages will be open if I drive slowly enough!

I was packed away and moving by 06.00 the dawn was here, a slight breeze was blowing, the sky was clear and it was dry as I reversed up the track back onto the road. Just outside Armadale about 6 miles down the road I saw a campsite and a brick-built shower block..water!! I pulled in and drove to the tap at the side of the building, a section of hose was now added to my list of “things to get” I used my now empty water bottles to squeeze enough fresh water into the tank, I said “Hi” to the the chap and his wife with the caravan as I drove back out, didn’t think it was necessary to knock up the camp warden. Just down the road I found a large picnic area overlooking the next headland with a couple of coloured bins so parked and disposed of mine, time for a wash and a change of clothes too before cooking breakfast switching the gas on I cooked sausage and bacon before slicing my finger with the new ultra sharp butter knife, I searched out the medic bag and applied a plaster, it a bit overkill you might think, but its good practice to find /remember where stuff is! I returned to buttering the bread and promptly sliced into another finger FFS!

 

                                              The Armadale Butter knife incident…

I did laugh asking myself what fook was I playing at! So I had a neat plaster on one finger and a wet wipe wrapped around the other. So bizarre it had to be photographed! Moral of the story could be….Don’t use a sharp knife when under the influence of Red Bull…Rodney!!

I drove back to the pretty village of Betyhill, with the shop sign boasting “SHOP AHEAD OPEN  8 DAYS A WEEK!” Amusing and eye-catching but untrue coz it was shut! At least it was this morning at 08.30am. I drove a few miles further on to a small hamlet called Coldbackie I pulled over to look at the small beach with a path between the fields to it, an old lady also pulled up behind me with her mad dog as I made my way the 350 yrds to the sands The sea was busy with the rocks in the small bay, I sat on a log for while enjoying the sunshine when the old lady arrived with her mad happy dog “Throw it mum throw it!” the dog urged her, but she was walking with crutches so had to wait as she made he way across the rocks into the beach then she threw it “Yehaa lets GO shouted the daft dog”!

                              Thick grasses knitted the sand dunes together

 

                               Taken on a 22mil lens to capture the width of the beach

 

                                 A beautiful end to quite a bloody morning…

 

                                                         Coldbackie beach

Walking back the dog hardly gave me the time of day as he chased his ball, I exchanged greetings with the old lady she asked which way the tide was going, I didn’t have any idea I had only been here a few minutes  and joked she could scramble up the dunes if it was coming in, Not with these she laughed as she bashed her TIN LEGS with her crutch! ‘Oh I see!” I laughed, “Well why don’t you come back to the edge near the steps with me?” I offered to help but she managed and was as able as me stepping carefully over the stones at least she wont get sand stuck between her toes! I smiled and said bye walking back to the truck I glanced back but she was busy entertaining her dog. I sat in the truck and watched her for a while still throwing the ball in one hand whilst holding her balance with her crutch in the other…”Can’t believe she has two tin bloody Legs”…I repeated to myself. So now I was back tracking Id seen a road on my map that cuts down through the middle of the Highlands and Id never been on it so once again I left the North Coast 500. It actually went east all the way to John O Groats then turned south along the coast through dreary grey looking Wick, Id been along here last year on a trip to Orkney so didn’t feel like I was missing out and I would rejoin it at the end of the day probably somewhere North of Inverness for its last leg of the 500, it begins and ends at Inverness.

At the village of Tongue I turned south onto the single track road this climbed up the hillside to give me a wonderful view over the Kyle of Tongue and the distant mountains over North West Sutherland. I did see a few vehicles this morning we nodded and smiled as one of us pulled over at the passing places (about every 2-300 hundred yards or so)  Every now and again I saw huge fenced in fir-tree packed squares some of them were easily half a mile or more in width, probably belonged to a logging company?  I came across one such “forest” that had no gate nor was it wrapped in wire fencing so I drove in for a look around, I followed the track all the way to the other end coming back I spotted a picnic area with rough built benches and tables. “THIS was the perfect place to camp overnight” I thought to myself.

 

 .                         At the centre of the unfenced unnamed forest

 

                        A photographic moment with the truck and the tree

What a little gem of a place and a memory of where it is I have made for next time maybe.  I made my way south back down the road I saw a couple of vehicles ahead and watched 4 guys holding a big board up facing a guy with a big  camera set up on a large boulder, aha, men at work filming for something.

I saw nothing for hours and the land turned bare except for the hundreds of tree  stumps where those fir tree forests once stood. Soon I was alongside a very long loch at but for the next dozen miles or so It was pretty bare, the road followed a small river as we trundled south down this long valley, I pulled over for coffee and cake for half an hour as the grey had returned and brought some cold drizzle, I looked at the map and the Satnav to see exactly where I was and decided I was going to be on this road for the best part of the day unless I deviated again, we shall see..  On I drove and the radio was a mush of hisssss again so switched it off, it hadn’t been bad on the North coast but now it was rubbish again. Id seen one large hoos and nothing much else in the past hour Oh! save for some closed pub called The Cracked Inn, This solitary building is even on the map!

I was going to be on this track for hours I only noticed two  other tracks at crossroads at a place called Altnaharra, I settled in for a few slow miles on the narrow tarmac. ess than 5 miles down the road I had some action as I was halted at temporary traffic light whoo hoo! A van was already halted and a well wrapped but cold workman came over for a chat, he said it will be about half an hour so I turned off my engine and dozed a bit, it was raining outside so declined to get out for a stroll around.  Half an hour passed and sure enough we were waved on. With a single track road there is no other way when re surfacing and the road simply for a bit has to close as they do a section. We passed slowly as the equipment was moved over into the lay by nods and a thank you as I went by was greeted with cold nods from men eager to finnish.

I let the van get on ahead and let the woman in her Disco 4 get past, they were both late I was not! I looked at the horizon ahead in time to spot the speeding jet, it was a very low and fast RAF Tornado I looked at the horizon to spot the second one (often they train in pairs) when over it popped and came over me equally as fast low and noisy, they passed down either side of me! I think their rules say 250 feet? I had no chance with the camera unfortunately!

Now fully awake from my little snooze I checked the map and saw I was heading for Lairg then possibly a hoik a left across the A839 to the east coast and a coffee in Golspie and back on the NC500. From now on I will see lots of people and lots of cars,back to normality I think!

I was cruising around the headland looking at Dornoch Firth and the RSPB bird sanctuaries, I had a little look at the camp and caravan sites deciding quickly I wouldn’t stay here after all! I was about 40 miles above Inverness what shall I do? Then I remembered I had my BRITSTOP book so looked at what was on offer, this book is full of places that let the likes of motorhomes campervans and such park for the night on their property free of charge, the only ask that you have a meal or drink in their bar or restaurant or buy something from their shop, which is only fair I guess. So I rang one near Inverness and spoke to the lady in charge, she was most happy and helpful, it was actually a creamery and made speciality cheeses,  and was situated half a mile opposite Inverness airport off the A96. I arrived an hour before it closed so had a couple of their coffees and bought some cheese. So for less than a tenner I got safe and secure overnight parking…coffee and some cheese. A good deal I would say!

                                  Looking out towards The Moray Firth at Dusk 

The last photo of the trip is the above dusky shot of “Gods fingers” pushing through the clouds and an apt time to end this blog. The next morning I drove an hour down the busy A9 calling into see the author of the FACEBOOK page called LAND ROVER CAMPERS. He has a great place on a hillside with the most magnificent views over The Cairngorms. I used the sat nav with his postcode and got right to the door, I knew it was correct because of the two Land Rovers parked on the drive!  Well hello Willem de Jong, get the flippin kettle on! Willem and his wife are from Holland and are busy renovating Broomhills in between overlanding trips and the dog. Next month they are off to Namibia overlanding for a while Their house will be kept busy with holiday lets full of tourists and their caretaker. It’s always nice to have a real chat and put a face to a name from FaceBook isn’t it?

It was mid morning before I pulled myself away..I could have stayed all day…rejoined the A9 south and home to South Yorkshire which I finally landed at just after 18.30 hrs. A very successful and happy trip that was with a few ideas about customizing the truck a bit more, like the purchase of a roll up mattress cover to please our backs at bed-time and the fitting of a few more D links etc etc.