We realise that all this wandering around south-west Scotland means that other parts of the country don’t get the chance to meet and greet us. To remedy this the Missus came up with the idea of a road-show with us out on tour around the country in a camper-van. She’s always fancied the idea of touring Canada in one of these things but, being a bright girl, thought it made sense to have a 3-night experiment touring a bit of Scotland, especially as she got an Internet offer that took 2/3 off the cost of hiring it. As we had picked the middle of November for the jaunt, our usual meticulous planning had to consider other variables, e.g. were we going to freeze to death, will anywhere be open, and will we get any sleep when Jazz starts snoring in a metal box on wheels?
By placing an inordinate amount of trust in the weather forecast we decided we’d head to the north-east of Scotland to explore an area we didn’t know 1. We picked up The Beast 2 in Callander: this was a 6-berth thing that should give the three of us ample room and comfort. We’d decided that as complete novices in the mobile home lark we’d use camp-sites every night so we would have basic comfort with power and sanitation. The Beast had its own shower and toilet but we’ve reached that point in our lives where chemical toilets and a shower giving a dribble of tepid water are a step too far. Call us softies but we have limits.
It turns out that in November most sites are closed for the winter, but we managed to find a nice one near Kirriemuir that wasn’t too far for us to reach on our first day and didn’t involve driving down narrow lanes while we got used to piloting this monster. The weather was pretty foggy and darkness comes at around 4pm which meant we’d arrive in the dark. We had the place to ourselves so no-one was around to see us make a complete hash of getting set-up. The first problem is nose-in or tail-in to the pitch? There’s probably a protocol for this but we decided on nose-in because that was the easier maneuver, only to find that the power lead wouldn’t stretch to the outlet. So we needed to reverse in. My parking skills aren’t great at the best of times, so trying to back a house into a small space was never going to be easy or without the odd bit of strong language. The Beast did have a reversing monitor that springs into life when you select reverse but the camera had misted over and its lights just left the screen completely white 3: useless. So after a stressful process of trial-and-error we finally had the Beast in position and hooked up. Within moments the wine was open…
There is something exciting about waking up in a new place when you’ve arrived in the dark the night before. We’d had a reasonable if slightly claustrophobic night’s sleep (once Jazz had realised that she wasn’t going to be able to climb the ladder to the double bed above the driving area). It was very civilised having breakfast while looking out to the Grampians with skeins of Pink-footed Geese flying around 4. We got ready to leave by carefully following the checklist: having unlocked drawers fly open as you go round a corner isn’t good for the heart. Now we were back on the road heading for the coast. The high driving position is great for doing some birdwatching over hedges as well as anticipating meeting buses in narrow roads. We got to Inverbervie on the Aberdeenshire coast, and with our increasing confidence driving the Beast, we decided to head down to the beach and were relieved to find a large car park at the end where we could turn without needing to reverse. This is getting to be fun.
The beach is full of lovely pebbles and we had fun wandering along beside some great waves in lovely warm sunshine. It was so nice we just had to text friends stuck in wet Ayrshire. After a saunter along the coastal path to Gourdon and back we had lunch by the beach before heading north for Aberdeen and its roundabouts and traffic. There were a few “Sorry, I’m a tourist” waves to the locals but on the whole driving was not too bad with no crashes by the time we emerged on the NW side and started heading for the Cairngorms.
We’d decided to play safe and stick to the A-roads which should be fine for the Beast. The Missus was navigating and saw a nice route that was marked as (especially) scenic: the A941 heading for Dufftown. However, as we climbed it kept getting narrower at exactly the point we’d meet oncoming timber lorries that weren’t going to slow down for tourists. Our strategy then was “close eyes and tighten sphincter” – it seemed to work as we survived intact. At the highest point we found a large car park and stopped as Jazz wanted dinner 5. It turns out this is the cross-country ski centre and a huge network of tracks head off through the forest which made for an ideal postprandial wander. We were almost tempted to stay the night here, but then we remembered the chemical toilet and so headed on for the next camp-site: at Aberlour in Speyside. This site is in an old walled garden and requires a bit of “Are you sure it is up this forest track?” sort of discussion. It was, and unsurprisingly, we had the place to ourselves. With the help of a badly printed Google map of the area we got from the owner we headed off on a walk along the lanes in pitch darkness: it seemed like a good idea.
The next morning was another lovely day for a drive down Speyside. The scenery was gorgeous and plans were made to come back here next autumn for a week. We headed down into the National Park and in Aviemore turned to head up to Loch Morlich. This is an old stomping ground that we knew would go down well with Her Jazzness. There is a Beast-friendly car park beside the loch and nice forest trails with excellent sniffing opportunities 6. The beach 7 was mostly empty: Jazz broke with tradition and went for a swim to freshen up for lunch. It is very civilised having lunch on plates, with coffee, and listening to a Desert Island Discs podcast on the iPod 8 – it certainly beats eating a sandwich while sitting on a rock, fighting off an ever-hungry Spaniel. Then the afternoon’s entertainment: the Missus took the wheel of the Beast as we headed down the A9 9 for our last night’s stop in Blair Atholl.
We’ve been to the Blair Atholl Caravan Park numerous times but never stayed in the mobile area, so it was an interesting new perspective. As we were now seasoned pros at this business we were all hooked up and ready in mere minutes and so had plenty of time for the obligatory walk to Diana's Grove and Hercules Garden – wonderfully peaceful as dusk settled. Jazz had been making noises of going to the Atholl Arms for dinner as she likes the ambiance and the chance of picking up discarded titbits, so off we headed. The sky was clear and the stars were stunning – I obviously waved to my people in Ursa Major.
We’d picked Blair Atholl for two reasons: we love it, and it is also quite close to Callander where we had to drop off the Beast by 11am. It was quite foggy and together with the time constraint, meant we had a bit of pressure to get back in time which wasn’t ideal. We would have made it except we had to refill the tank: I have never stood at a pump for so long as we put in £100 of Diesel – not too bad for 360 miles in a Beast that weighs 3 tonnes. Although it was nominally a 6-berth van, you’d need to be very friendly with your companions to get 6 of you in it: 2 adults and a dog was pushing it! We had enjoyed the experience and would do it again if we could get another good offer for hiring the van. Jazz particularly liked being able to sleep in her bed up front with us as we drove along. However, we certainly won’t be buying our own and as for a month touring Canada in one: the jury is still out…
- The fact that it was the only part of Scotland not expected to get soaked in the next four days was the clincher. ↩
- As the Missus named it on seeing that it was larger than her first flat. ↩
- It is Italian and so probably not expected to encounter extreme weather like this. ↩
- They get 64000 at nearby Montrose Basin. ↩
- It’s a subtle trick distinguishing ‘Jazz would like dinner’ (i.e. always) and ‘Jazz wants dinner’ but when the stomach rumbling reaches 120dB you know it is time. ↩
- For the dog! ↩
- The highest in the UK apparently. ↩
- Giles Brandeth was the castaway. ↩
- Scotland’s “Death Road”. ↩