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Dear fellow Hobbyist
We’ve suddenly become conscious that we’ve not posted anything on our website about our/Boudi’s Tour. We hope this puts right that omission.
We met many off you at the AGM rally in Ambleside so we’ll be brief covering the tour upto that point.
We’d had a pretty awful first six months to the year. Gary lost his youngest brother to cancer and also discovered that a second brother had been diagnosed with the same disease (altho’ it now looks like treatment has been successful), our middle son became ill and the house sale was delayed.
Nevertheless, eventually we started the Tour in May only to get 20minutes down the road when the clutch went on the motorhome; further delays!
After dealing with some family business on the way north thru’ England and after spending some quality time in Cheshire, we arrived at the AGM rally in Ambleside. It was great to spend time again with fellow hobbyists and we also met up with some other old friends that we hadn’t seen for 25+years.
After the rally we cut across the country to the North East and Durham and Newcastle, seeing more dear old friends before following the coast up to Berwick-on-Tweed. We crossed the Tweed to enter Scotland on 15th July, the beginning of week 10 of the Tour. We visited Edinburgh, the Kingdom of Fife, Perth and Stirling, doing some Highland Games en route. Eventually we swung north right to the top of Scotland (Durness and Tongue) before heading for the Western Isles.
In Stirling we got the MH MoT’d whilst we visited Stirling Castle. The weather, which had been and continued to be, a generally, disappointing feature of our ‘Scotland Experience’ ran thru’ all four seasons on that day: hail, wind, rain and glorious sunshine.
The next day we went to Falkirk to see the Falkirk Wheel and the Kelpies. The wheel is an amazing engineering structure that is a beautifully-designed boat lift connecting the Forth and Clyde Canal with the Union Canal. An hour’s boat trip up and thru’ the wheel was a lovely experience and tremendously interesting.
The Kelpies were great. A ‘Kelpie’ is a mythical Scottish equine beastie, much like a Siren in that it invites the unwary to ride it, who then get stuck on it and drowned when the kelpie returns to the water. The Falkirk Kelpies are two huge equine sculptures, again alongside the Forth and Clyde canal signifying the link between Scotland’s canal/water heritage with its mythology. Whatever that means, the sculptures were truly impressive and beautiful and well worth the visit.
Then we headed to Strathyre and stopped at this lovely site right by Loch Voil.
After Strathyre it was a first for us; our first ‘Wild Camping’. In truth, our first night was not that impressive – just of the A9 near Dalwhinnie (note, near Dalwhinnie, not at the whiskey distillery at Dalwhinnie that might have been better!!). then on to a fleeting visit to Fort George on the Moray Firth; fleeting because the rain at this point was coming in horizontally! Where to stay? A quick check in with the Facebook page of the Scottish Motorhome Wild Campers (Yes, it exists and I strongly recommend you joining them if you’re planning a Scotland trip) and, lo and behold, stay at the Cheese Pantry, Ardersier. OBVIOUSLY, the next morning we HAD to visit the cheese pantry itself and, after some difficulty making a decision on what to have, we left with some really delicious cheese, which lasted us quite some while!
Lunch later that day was in the royal Hotel, Cromarty on the Black Isle near Inverness. Two Cullen Skink (for the first time – google if you don’t know what it is) and great fish and chips for Gary and a mountain of langoustines for Donna. The night was spent wild camping again, overlooking the harbour at Cromarty, just watching the tide come in – bliss.
More wild camping for the next couple of nights overlooking Munlochy Bay, still on the Black Isle before a drive to Fort Augustus at the south western end of Loch Ness in order to meet up with a friend. He, and about 20 others, was cycling from Lands End to John O’Groats to raise money for Action Duchenne, a charity supporting research into Muscular Dystrophy. When we met him and them on the Sunday, they were two days short of John O’Groats. They left before we got up on the Monday morning but we caught them up on the ‘Hill from Hell’ climbing away from Drumnadrochit on Loch Ness. Boudi struggled at times on the climb: Lord knows how they managed it.
After an impromptu stop and chat with the cyclists at the top of the hill we swung north west and went thru’ Ullapool, Kylesku, Durness and Kyle of Tongue – wild camping all the way. The North West coast of Scotland is AMAZING, especially around Sangobeg Bay and Loch Eriboll.
The road to those places and thence towards Lairg were largely single track with passing places, despite being A-roads. Beautiful scenery but stop/starting a 4.5ton, 7.5 m motorhome was a wee bit irritating (note the Scottish terms we’re now using!)
A night spent in the car park of the Pier Café, Lairg, overlooking Loch Shin (and breakfast in the same) was followed by a drive back to Ullapool to park in the car park of the Argyll Hotel. After more Cullen Skink and more langoustines we decided to enter the Hotel’s ‘pub quiz.
We feel we need to tell you about this quiz. It was in the hotel and there were only 6 teams, including one of four Germans who gracefully retired when questions about Arfur Daley came up! The normal quiz master had felt unwell so his place was taken by a local, who readily admitted at the beginning of the quiz (9pm) that he’s had way too much Guinness already. His Guinness drinking didn’t abate as the evening wore on and the banter between him and his children (who were in team doing the quiz) got progressively louder and more raucous. Apparently these quizzes normally last about a hour. At 11.00 things really began to fall apart and the last round’s marking, complicated by the then-given answers to the first round (don’t ask!) caused a total train-crash of an event. We think we won when a group of youngsters gambled on the last living dodo being seen in the 20th century (!!). Our victory was not confirmed however as the ‘discussions’ between quiz master and daughter kicked off again and all the teams left them to it and went to bed! Hilarious.
After waking up the next morning and STILL not getting our prize/winnings we took the ferry out of Ullapool to the Isle of Lewis.
Lewis is in the Outer Hebrides; and there’s a clue in the name, there – Outer. It really is a different world there. Lewis is geologically old. Very old. Comprising Lewisian Gneiss, the island’s rock is 3 billion years old. Civilisation existed on Lewis before Stonehenge was built. Indeed Stonehenge couldn’t have been built had not ‘British’ civilisation tested itself here.
We stayed with a wonderful ex-work colleague and dear friend Christine at her house on the west coast of Lewis; managing to get Boudi on to her drive. She spoilt us rotten; more langoustines, crab claws, smoked salmon, halibut, her garden produce local cheeses ……. Fantastic. Not only that but she showed us some of the social history of Lewis (the Black Houses and the Standing Stones at Clannanish), and took us on a visit to see Norman, a Harris Tweed weaver (Yes, we bought some) plus some of Lewis’ stunning scenery. We must add again, however, that the weather was awful. One day she lent us her car and we visited Uige Bay. It’s a beach that wouldn’t disgrace the Bahamas. Miles and miles of sand. We swear, a remake of Lawrence of Arabia wouldn’t be out of the question. But it was SOOOOOOOO windy that, after a walk across the sands, we had to ‘tack’ our way back to the car park! We met a young couple with two children, from Leeds, who had had to abandon their tent at 6pm the evening before after their fourth tent pole snapped in the wind; they were looking at where they might re-site it – such is the stoicism of the ‘English’! (HE admitted that the de-camping to a hotel, whilst expensive, did allow him to watch Match of the Day!!)
When we left Chris’ we headed for Harris, passing thru’ Tarbert where we intended to get a ferry to Skye. We knew we were heading for Luskentyre/Losgaintir but nothing prepared us for the sight of round a bend and seeing this incredible area. Mile after mile of sand; really! We wild camped overlooking the beach and the next morning went for a walk on it (between showers). With the tide out, I couldn’t see the horizon such was the expanse of the sands. Needless to say another night there was a necessity, despite the fact that we had no TV signal, nor internet not phone; unless I walked 500m into middle of bay where, amazingly, my phone went crazy with mails, messages etc.
After a wonderful time with Chris and on Harris, we arrived in Tarbert with a view to catching ferry over to Skye; it was full. So we decided to ‘wild camp(!!!) in a layby next to the distillery that’s being built. It also gave us a free afternoon and we’d noticed a sign that said the ‘Fish Man’ was due at a local hotel carpark at 2.30. We duly went to wait for him along with, it gradually because obvious, a lot of locals. As he arrived and opened up the back of his van it was like a nature film of crabs all moving towards a dead whale carcass or similar – people coming from all directions. Hilarious. We bought some lovely fish but it did strike us as strange that, on an island surrounded by seas full of fish, a man had to make a weekly trip from Aberdeenshire in order to provide a fresh fish service.
After a not great night in the layby we woke at about 5.00 and pulled across the road to feed onto the ferry. The harbour was to our right, the water still with only a couple of gulls and terns milling about. Then the fish went crazy, jumping out of the water and making it boil such was their frenzy. What was causing that, we wondered? And then we saw what, an otter, bobbed up, looking around before diving again to set of more fish-panic. This treat lasted about 20 minutes until we boarded the ferry.
An uneventful crossing brought us to Skye. Needless to see the weather wasn’t great and that certainly affected how we felt about this famously beautiful island. A few years back we saw Tuscany, in the rain, and that failed to really move us; Skye was the same. And very touristy. So all in all, we definitely preferred Harris and Lewis. The visit to the Tallisker Distillary was ok though!
The sun did come out whilst we were waiting for another ferry crossing back to the mainland; Armadale to Mallaig. A few miles down the road we lucked out by again finding a site with yet another stunning view; Silversands. A rocky bay, with soft sand led the eye to the islands of Muck, Eigg and Rum. The Cuillan Hills on Skye were also still visible. And the sun shone like it really owed us. We met some lovely folk over from Fife who insisted we have a go in their kayaks. Some of you will know that Gary is not a boaty person, but the sea was so calm, and shallow, and clear and wonderful that even he couldn’t resist. Another first. A planned one night stop changed when we realised just how wonderful it was and the weather stayed glorious through – even the midges generally left us alone. Then on the Monday morning we had the joyous experience of a lone piper practicing out on the rocks; bliss.
We and all the folk we’d become friendly with left on the Tuesday morning (the kids in Scotland went back to school the next day). We headed east into Glen Coe.
Some I know once said to me that we’d never be able to wild camp, in Glen Coe, in the Summer. Well, we did it, finding a lovely spot near a small loch and babbling stream. Not only that, but there was a waterfall pouring off the glen side. After dinner, we decided to come up to it. We ascended 200m, I reckon about 1200 steps. That’s both of us! 90 minutes up, 30 minutes down.
On day 99 of ‘the Tour’ we arrived in Oban and booked into a bistro called The Wide Mouthed Frog for dinner. They allow motorhomes to stay in their carpark overnight. Lovely meal, too, although in Gary’s view their Cullen Skink needed more smoked fish in it..
Day 100 (!!!) saw us arrive at Ford, Argyllshire, at the house of our friends Patrick and Helen. On the Friday we took a boat ride out to the whirlpool in the Gulf of Corryvreckan. Unfortunately tide conditions were not right so we didn’t experience the whirlpool. We did, however, have a great trip seeing both Grey and Common Seals, a stag (on Jura) and three Sea Eagles.
Our time in Scotland was coming to an end and we spent some time reflecting on what we felt about this country.
It is a shame to start with a negative point but the weather was awful. Virtually everybody we spoke to had never known a summer like it. Until Silversands I think it was nice enough to get the chairs out on only 3 occasions and at no time was it suitable for a BBQ. Having got that out of the way, what a beautiful country. I guess we knew that, but even so, we were blessed with some truly awesome scenery; from our first view of Scotland across River Tweed, right thru’ the Highlands (blue hydrangeas), The Black Isle near Inverness, Loch Ness, Glen Coe, and the beaches in Sutherland (Sangobeg Bay), Lewis (Uige), Harris (Losgaintir/Luskentyre), and of course the best, Silversands, south of Mallaig. In the cities there was plenty to see. Leith (in the sun!), by the Firth of Forth near Edinburgh was lovely. But I think all these pale to third place or lower after behind, second place, Losgaintir, and in no.1 spot, Silversands. This may be because the sun shone when we were at these last two spots; at Silversands, relentlessly.
There also seemed to be an optimism about Scotland at the moment. It appeared to be ‘Full’ if the ‘No Vacancy’ signs on the hotels and B&Bs were to be believed. Yet, strangely to us, many businesses (albeit I’m talking shops, mainly) appear to be owned and run by non-Scots.
After about 6 weeks in Scotland we took a ferry from Troon to Larne and took Boudi to our friend, Gary Mac’s house. Once again dear friends put their toilets, showers, washing machines etc at our disposal. So nice.
We only intended to stay with Gary mac for a couple of days, after ‘doing’ Belfast and getting our passports renewed at that city’s passport office. However he kept coming up with other suggestions as to what we could do AND two further friends, Tony and Sian turned up to stay with Gary so we spent more time with them including a wonderful evening meal at a local pub, Billy Andys and lunch with another ex-colleague in Warren Point. Whilst with Gary we borrowed his car and travelled around the Causeway Coast Road to the Giant’s Causeway, via the ‘Dark Hedges’. This latter are a natural phenomenon of overly-old beech trees and had featured in the TV adaptation of Games of Thrones. The Causeway itself is a fantastic natural phenomenon but, for us, was spoilt by the intimidating attitude of the National Trust who now manage it and monopolise car parking, access etc. Gary mac also took us out on his boat; to Rathlin Island and Ballantoy Harbour (another location from Game of Thrones). Donna loved the boat ride, Gary T less so!! It had got to 10 days at Gary’s and we really did have every intention of leaving; just after going with him to a live rugby match (Ulster v Ospreys, at Ravenhill) when he said that he was going to watch the England v Ireland rugby on the Saturday, at Billy Andys AND that there was an evening of traditional Irish music to follow. Well we had to stay another day didn’t we?
It was during our time in Larne that a friend of ours had died. We knew she was gravely ill but had not expected her end to come so soon. So we left Gary’s for Donegal knowing that we would return in order to fly to the funeral which was in Cardiff.
Donegal was, yet again, stunning. We wild-camped the whole time mainly next to blue flag beaches but for one night in Donegal town itself where we spent a glorious evening in a packed bar, The Reel Inn, listening to the landlord and some friends play more traditional music (for about 100 ‘visitors, plus a local wedding reception of 30+). I said the bar was packed, didn’t I? The landlord himself was an ‘interesting’ character; of a size that suggested a life based on stew and Guinness, a voice that, to us, was totally unintelligible, (Father Jack would be closest!) and a style of playing the accordion that went like this:
At no time a smile.
Fingers started moving, arms squeezing instrument and incredible music starting
Foot started tapping
Slowly, right shoulder starts moving in time with music, getting faster
Joined by the head, moving, also in time
Finishing with a wonderful crescendo! Fantastc!
Back to the beaches. We visited a glorious bay at Malin beg where I first paddled in a luke-warm Atlantic, the stayed at Malin More (near a great folk museum – can’t go into it now, but was also a brilliant example of community development/community salvation).
Next night spent at Naran, with many echoes of Silver Sands back in Scotland, where, at low tide, I was able to walk out to the island of Innisfree. Then back to Northern Ireland via a beach by Donegal ‘airport’ and Letterkenny.
Thus we came to our last weekend in Ulster, yet time for one more visit to Billy Andys and more music. It was then that I think I witnessed the best piece of live music I’ve ever seen! Aeolian pipes again, just with a guy playing ‘bones’ to accompany the pipes (for bones, think spoons!) Truly beautiful, a priceless moment.
So we’ll be back into the Republic on Wednesday, maybe for a few weeks, then Wales, Devon and France and, we hope, warmer climes.
But to close, some final reflections on Northern Island: Being of an age, our expectations of Ulster were heavily coloured by the news coverage we watched when younger. In some senses we think we were therefore expecting an industrial waste land and yet Ulster is stunningly beautiful; from the green hills and glens of Antrim to the Giant’s Causeway and its Coastal Drive, and everything in between. However there are still very obvious legacies of the ‘troubles’. And what we found surprising was it is the Unionists that seem to be perpetuating this. The Irish/Republicans seem to be entirely comfortable ‘in their skin’ yet the Northern Irish/Unionists behave a bit like a disruptive, attention-seeking toddler, shouting “look at me; my flags, my red/white/blue painted lamp standards, and at the march we watched in Derry/Londonderry, my orange sashes and my really, really, big drum!!” There are several signs of reconciliation, some are beautiful pieces of public art, (Hands Across the Divide in Derry, being one) but nevertheless a tension remains. To us, everyone, both ‘sides’, have been great but as someone said to us “We love you, we just hate each other”. Odd. Still, off to Sligo, Clare, Kerry and other evocative places this week.
We’ll write again with more news soon and we WON’T leave it so long next time.
All love Gary and Donna xx
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