Part 9 Homeward bound

Back in England, we spent the night at Gibraltar Farm campsite overlooking Morecambe Bay.

A nice site with modern facilities, it is just 2 miles from RSPB Leighton Moss, which we visited the next morning for a last walk. We managed to see Osprey, Marsh Harrier Pochard and finally a Blackcap, bringing our species total for the holiday to 105.

Then, a good drive south to our favourite campsite at Warwick, Paul and Pam’s drive. (We had planned to meet them for the weekend camping in Tewkesbury, but the site owner had cancelled us due to flooding!). On Saturday, we visited beautiful Spetchley Park gardens (HHA),

and then Croome Park, the first estate landscaped by Capability Brown,

with Adam interiors,

and some rather interesting art installations,

including some by Grayson Perry.

Sunday was home time, meeting up with Jen and Samson en route for a lovely walk near Newbury, up to to original Watership Down.

Then home and we got the washing on!

What a super trip. We enjoyed it more than we expected given the cool grey weather, and in fact, by being unplanned, we were free to pick our route, and follow the dry weather, which we did pretty well. We were certainly much drier than they were in England. Our route looks wiggly, but it was very logical!

By using mainly off site overnight stops, our nightly fees averaged £5.20 per night! Our fuel was by far our most expensive item at £450. We spent £30 on admissions, and this included the Falkirk Wheel. Our National Trust cards saved us £60 in admissions, and historic houses (HHA), a whopping £264. The Art Pass saved us £23, and RSPB £27. We cannot extol their virtues enough. HHA is particularly useful in Scotland, where many of the bigger, expensive castles belong to the scheme.

What a super Bimble with Boris.

Part 8 Dundee, Fife and Glasgow east!

Dundee is the 4th largest city in Scotland, and was always known for the 3 J’s.. Jam, Jute and Journalism. It has recently undergone a huge regeneration of it’s waterfront, culminating in the building of the striking V&A Scotland museum which opened last year.

Our main reason for visiting was to see Captain Scott’s Antarctic exploration ship the Discovery, which was built here and is now on display in it’s home port.

There is a wonderful exhibition about the construction and equipping of the ship, and the expedition itself. The hull was built of 5 layers of different timbers, filled the void with salt to absorb water, and had bridging struts to prevent crushing by pack ice. Provisions included 45 sheep.. many of which were lost overboard, and vast quantities of meats, bottled fruits and vegetables and cheese, to provide a balanced diet and try to prevent conditions like scurvy, but they could not last for the nearly 3 years that the trip took!

The purpose of the voyage was as a scientific exploration of uncharted territory, so scientists and research equipment were all on board, covering geology, botany, zoology, cartography, physics and engineering.

Many of their findings are in use today. The ship itself was remarkable. Solid, with beautifully polished woodwork, and giving a real sense of life onboard.

But nothing could simulate the privations of their stay in Antarctica, at -60 degrees and eating seabirds! Devilled skua was one recipe.. apparently it tasted like devilled rotten fish!

Next door, the V&A’s architecture is supposed to echo the rugged Fife coast. Inside we visited a fascinating exhibition on how videogames are conceptualised and created, plus the problems they can cause.

We were surprised, and impressed, at the amount, and quality of ‘real’ drawing that occurs before the computer graphic stage.

Some games used full orchestra and choirs to record the backing music! The permanent Scottish gallery celebrates all aspects of Scottish design. Highlights for us were the Rennie Mackintosh oak room, an exhibition on the Beano.. DC Thomson publishers are based here, and the last tiara Cartier ever made, which was commissioned here, and contains over 25,000 diamonds.

The Scottish fashion exhibit had a lovely line in 1960’s skiwear!

To avoid city centre parking problems, we had earlier driven across the long Tay bridge, with the lovely views… including of more oil platforms in for maintenance!

We then caught the local train into and out of Dundee from Leuchars, crossing the railway bridge, under which you can see the stone stumps of the first rail bridge which collapsed in 1879 in a storm, killing everyone aboard the train that plunged into the river. A sobering thought. Back to Boris and we drive out to the Fife coast at St Andrew’s. This is the land of sand dunes and many, many golf courses, including the Holy Grail of Golfers, St Andrew’s itself.

The quaint town now has golfing hotels, and golfing apparel shops everywhere. On its south side are the remains of a magnificent 12th century Abbey, and castle, reminding us that St Andrew’s was here long before the first Mashie Niblick!

How has that tower stayed up for 800 years?! Of course, St Andrew’s recently had another claim to fame, and they are not shy about exploiting it!

Next, down the coast to Cambo Sands and our free car park for the night, again with a stunning sea view and the chance of an evening walk on the beach.

Next morning, a 6 mile walk along the lovely shore, and a pretty stream, watching birds and doing our usual beach clean as we go.

On the whole the beaches are pretty good, but we just pick up any plastic, ropes or litter that we see as a matter of course now. Something we can all do whenever we walk along a beach.

Fife is famous for it’s charming fishing villages, and we drove through Crail, Anstruther, St Monans and Elie

before turning inland to visit Loch Kilconquhar and then Loch Leven, a lovely RSPB reserve where we picked up 3 new birds for our species list, bringing our trip total to 99 different species in Scotland. We cannot leave without the elusive 100th! We also had traumatic ‘nature in the raw’ experience. I took this photo of a black headed gull chick on an island nest with it’s parent birds.

Seconds later, a greater black backed gull dived down and snatched the chick. Adult bh gulls mobbed it, but it got away. A sad Springwatch type moment!

We then started our drive across the more built up areas of central Scotland, until we reached the incredible Kelpie sculpture near Falkirk. Two enormous heads of Kelpies, mythical horses, that represent endurance and strength. They are 30 metres tall and stand by a turning pool on the Union canal. We could spend the night here on the lower car park for £5, which we did so that we could walk to see the Kelpies at night. However, being Scotland and mid June, it wasn’t dark enough until after 11pm! It was worth it though.

They gradually change colour, but my favourite shot is this one, with Chris standing next to one to really show the size and majesty of the Kelpies.

From here next morning, it was just 10 minutes drive to the Falkirk wheel. Scotland’s canal network was built 200 years ago as a major transport network for it’s burgeoning industrial output. The two main canals, the Union, and the Forth and Clyde canal, were linked here by a series of locks. The coming of the rail network, and road haulage meant canals fell out of use and were abandoned. Three blocks of flats were built on the site of the locks. In the 1990’s, interest in canals was renewed and a huge restoration project was begun. They no longer had locks, so they looked for ways to link the 2 canals, finally accepting this superb design from a team led by Tony Kettle.

This is the worlds only rotating boat lift, and has been a huge success both as a functioning boat lift and a tourist attraction.

After our boat ride on the lift, we drove to Uddingston, a leafy Glasgow suburb, and caught the train into Bridgeton, in the east end of the city, to meet Margaret, a dear friend from many years ago.

We had a super afternoon catching up, and visiting some fascinating places in a part of Glasgow off the main tourist trail. They certainly have a jazzy taste in cars!

Margaret works in the Glasgow Women’s library, which evolved from a small project set up in 1990, during Glasgow’s year as European City of culture. It has moved into a beautiful old library building, and is dedicated to women’s lives, histories and achievements, plus hosting workshops, literacy classes, history walks and many other activities for the community. Amongst their treasures is this beautiful umbrella stand, painted by suffragettes imprisoned in jail in Glasgow.

They also have an art space, and were recently chosen by the National Gallery to display a newly acquired painting. A self portrait of the little known but highly regarded, female renaissance artist, Artemesia Gentileschi.

Her story is remarkable. Her father was an artist, and recognised his daughter’s talent. He hired a tutor, who raped Artemesia and was put on trial! However Artemesia was subjected to gruelling questioning and physical torture during the trial that ensued, although finally, and very unusually for the time, he was eventually convicted. She rose to fame in Florence and Naples as an excellent artist.

Walking in the local area we visited the People’s Palace, built in 1898 as a museum of people, and daily life in Glasgow from the 1750s.

Behind it are the glass Winter gardens, currently closed, and in front, the Doulton fountain. The largest terracotta fountain in the world, it was the centrepiece of the Glasgow Great Exhibition in 1888. Some fascinating museum displays, reflecting both Glasgow’s heyday as 2nd city in the Empire, and the extreme poverty experienced here. Pictures of ‘Steamies’, tile clad communal laundries, were given extra meaning when we walked across Glasgow Green and saw the metal poles that would once have been connected by lines for people to hang their washing on, after visiting the steamie!

The most dramatic building was a huge, ornate, tile hung facade resembling the Doges palace in Venice.

However, it was Templeton’s carpet factory, built this way in 1888 to appease local residents who didn’t want an ugly factory in their midst! Templetons created Axminster carpets that graced Royal Palaces and cruise liners…including the Titanic!

It now houses a brewery and restaurant, where we had an early supper before saying our goodbyes after a lovely afternoon, and heading south to Girvan on the Dumfiries coast… coming full circle as we again had a view of Arran and Ailsa Craig from our car park stop!

Possibly our last night in Scotland, and our last being lulled to sleep by the waves.

Our last day in Scotland, so we drove around the beautiful coast of Dumfries and Galloway to RSPB Mersehead where we saw Sand Martin to take our total to over 100 in Scotland. Yippee! We also saw Roe deer!

Then to beautiful Rockcliffe and a wonderful, if hilly walk along the coast where we had not one, but two wonderful wildlife experiences. Firstly, Peregrine Falcons, nesting on the cliffs,

and secondly, a first for both of us, two young badgers rooting in the grass on the hillside!

Scotland was really saying goodbye to us in style!

We headed towards Gretna Green and the M6. After nearly 25 days of virtually hold up free motoring, the first thing we saw was a road works sign!!

Part 7 Aberdeenshire east coast.

Next day was grey and threatened rain, so we had planned indoor activities. The first was the museum of Scottish lighthouses at Fraserburgh. Chris visited this while I went to the local heritage museum next door, which had really excellent and thoughtfully displayed exhibits covering the towns history and its inextricable links with fishing. This photo of the Herring fleet in the 1880’s was really striking.

It was a hard life for many. The men followed the Herring fleets and were away for months. The women fished at home, and did everything else too! I loved the description of the women who, if they had any spare fish, would walk to nearby towns carrying a heavy basket of fish on their backs, to barter for eggs or butter. So as not to waste time, they would knit as they walked!!

It was well planned for children too… on a replica ship you could winch in a creel of herring and sort them into barrels… I quite fancied a go but was about 50 years too old, so I gave it a miss! The stories of local people were very moving. These particularly caught my eye, so I’ve included them for you to read if you wish.

It still hadn’t rained, so we changed plans and went for a walk at the rspb reserve at Loch Strathbeg, where we saw Spoonbill, a rare visitor here. Then, heading south, we bypassed Aberdeen and went to the wonderful Dunnlottar castle, probably the most impossibly sited fortification we have seen.

Partly ruined, but with some intact rooms, it is a fascinating castle, and takes some getting to! Surrounded by high cliffs, again thronged with nesting seabirds, and with waves crashing on the rocks all around, it is a very atmospheric place. It held out for 8 months against Cromwell’s troops, and was responsible for safeguarding the Scottish Crown jewels, which Cromwell wanted to destroy. Before the castle fell, they were smuggled out by Mrs Grainger, who then hid them in her bed!

Our stop for the night was the carpark at another RSPB reserve at Fowlsheugh, and we treated ourselves to a lovely meal out at the Creel Inn at Catterline, a tiny fishing village typical of this coast.

This chap was in the field near our overnight stop!

Another super day and a good nights sleep was followed by an early morning walk along the cliffs at the Fowlsheugh rspb reserve.

This is the largest mainland seabird colony in Scotland, and stretches for over 2 miles of cliffs where every tiny ‘des res’ ledge is occupied by either Kittiwake, Guillemot, Razorbills, Cormorant, Fulmar or Terns.

Some seem impossibly vertically perched!

Just checking out the new neighbours!

It seemed as though the cliffs, the sea and the sky were simultaneously full of birds, and the noise was incredible.Or even one of about just 20 puffin!

Then, southwards to the House of Dun, a beautifully proportioned and symmetrical georgian house designed by William Adam in 1743.

Even the interiors were symmetrical with paired doors and alcoves on each wall… although it turned out that symmetry overruled functionality at times!

The plaster work was exquisite,

although it was later found that the plasterer sometimes cheated! These were real shells from the beach that he just dipped in plaster and then stuck on!

The owners were the Erskine family, and in 1825 Lady Augusta, daughter of William IV, married into the family. She was a great needle woman and her stunning embroidered are seen throughout the house.

The later family were really into ‘mod cons’, and had this special bath

and even more special shower… a very advanced model in it’s day! Your servant had to stand outside and pump the water back up to the top all the time… as presumably it got colder and dirtier each time!

The commode next to it was the first to have a flush.. the white button emptied the contents into a tray below! Strikingly similar to the cassette toilet in our campervan, although we are missing the mahogany and wedgwood china!
We also enjoyed the gardens, and loved the game larder, set amongst lime trees to keep bugs away!!

Next a nice walk at Kinnordy Loch RSPB where we saw red squirrel and Osprey. However we also learned a salutary lesson. We had a picnic lunch in Boris before our walk. Suddenly a young man on a sporty motorbike roared into the tiny carpark and proceeded to repeatedly rev up his engine, looking angrily around him before roaring off. We, and others, were shocked as it seemed such a pointless act. Later, as we finished our walk at the peaceful loch, I spotted a memorial to Stephen Donaldson, covered in flowers. Of course I turned to Google. Stephen was a local lad who had been brutally murdered and then dumped in this car park exactly 1 year before. His hobby was motorbike racing. The angry youth disturbing the peace was in fact a very upset friend of Stephen paying him tribute. So easy to judge without knowing the facts. And so sad.

Our next stop abruptly changed the mood. Glamis castle was the childhood home of the Queen mother, and is truly a fairytale castle.

And we just happened to arrive on Highland games day. Too late for the games themselves, we did see, and hear, a lot of bagpipes!

The interior of the castle is gorgeous, and it is still lived in. It is a mix of 12th century castle, and more modern splendour. Unfortunately, no photos were allowed, so these two were from postcards!

A busy day, and the luxury of a campsite tonight for all the necessary ablutions! Five Roads park in Alyth was ideal. Small, quiet and with lovely hot showers.

Part 6 Aberdeenshire… North coast

Next morning we entered the Cheese Pantry to find an Aladdins Cave of cheese treasures.So many beautiful cheeses, including their own which are made on the premises.The very friendly staff were keen for us to taste as many as we wished! We were happy to oblige! We came away with 4 delicious cheeses and a smoked Salmon paté made with their own cream cheese, for less than half of the price of a night on a campsite…and our fridge was re-stocked!First stop this morning was Cawdor Castle, built in 1372 and still lived in by the Campbell family.It was wonderful. A comfortable, homely feel in the rooms was offset by doors that opened onto stone staircases and secret dungeons.I have never seen twin four posters before!The first part of the castle to be built was a central keep, and the legend is that when the Thain of Cawdor wanted to build his castle, he sent his donkey to wander with a panniers of gold. Wherever the animal rested, he would build. It stopped under a Holly tree, so he built his keep around the tree. The holly tree is still there, and when it was carbon dated, it dates to the late 1300’s, when the castle was built!Around the castles were beautiful gardens and a maze, and we decided it was one of our favourite places.We were disappointed not to see Osprey at Loch Garten, and we had been told of a secret location near the castle to see them. We headed there on foot, in quite heavy rain, and saw the nest with a parent bird hunkered down, presumably sheltering the chicks. Hurray!Next, onto Lossiemouth where, as the rain had stopped, we did two walks. The first into the coastal forest, the only place we have ever seen where lichen carpeted the ground, looking like snow!Then, literally in the middle of nowhere, is a hidden corner where bird feeders are set up and regularly replenished. We sat on the bench there, literally feet from the feeders, as birds came and went, including coal tits feeding young. Suddenly, a flash of yellow, and a family of yellowhammer arrived, which were delightful. What a treat.Next a walk to Loch Spynie for some more bird watching, before returning to Lossiemouth, and, in particular the Lossie fish and chip shop!Supper purchased, we drove to the car park at the west beach where we could stay the night.Parked looking across the beach, two birds appeared, hovered and then dived into the tidal lagoon right in front of us. They were Ospreys, and we were treated to a few hours of them fishing! Every time they caught something they were mobbed by gulls. Amazing to watch.Then at 7.45 a jet took off from RAF Lossiemouth and disappeared towards the horizon. A lady passing said ‘There goes the 8pm fly past’ Sure enough, at 8pm exactly the Typhoon jet came roaring towards us and as he reached the shore, pulled into a lightning fast vertical climb, before spiralling down and vanishing!Another treat… and a regular occurrence apparently!The final treat was a super sunset!We both woke at 4am, and peeked out of the window. What a sight. The tide was in, the sun was beginning to rise…. and the Osprey were back fishing!And the cost of that campsite… free! Wow…so lucky! We even went straight back to sleep!Next day was forecast sunny, so we decided to do some walking!! Firstly, a visit to beautiful Elgin Cathedral… built in 1224, but left for ruin after the reformation in 1560, it has been a tourist attraction since the 1800s!On the Bishops house next door, these interesting house shaped gable ends caught my eye.Next door is the peaceful Biblical garden.Then an 8 mile coastal walk from Portsoy to Cullen (home of Cullen Skink… not an animal but gorgeous smoked haddock chowder!). We had parked Boris in Cullen, then caught the local bus to Portsoy to walk back. Sadly, Chris’ English bus pass was not accepted! If we had been on bikes (anyone who knows me should now be laughing loudly!), there was a super bike service point provided in the town square!This was an exhilarating walk.We also saw some beautiful orchids.Lots of beautiful scenery, cliffs studded with birds, sandy beaches and even an impossibly sited castle ruin – Findlater castle.We completed the somewhat hilly trek, and had an award winning ice cream as our prize!Back into Boris and a journey 10 miles along the coast to the RSPB reserve at Troup Head. Another few kilometres walking here was amply rewarded by the views of Scotland’s only mainland Gannet colony… 2000 beautiful birds, which we could see, hear and definitely smell!From the cliffs we were at eye level with these magnificent birds as they flew effortlessly by.The gannets are still mating and laying eggs, so no chicks yet. Gannet chicks are amazing. They turn into fat fluff balls, and their way of fledging is to literally fall out of the nest to the sea far below, cushioned by their fat. They are too fat to take off again, but their fat sustains them until they can!Lastly a few miles along a narrow twisty lane to St Drostan’s beach, our stop for the night, backed by sandstone cliffs.We spent an hour walking to explore some huge caves and rock pools before watching an even more amazing sunset, and then sleeping like logs… we didn’t wake up until after 9.00 am… unheard of for me!

Part 5 The Black Isle!

I have been playing catch up with the blog, and have finally made it with this post!

Our last morning in the Cairngorms was supposed to be spent at the RSPB reserve at Loch Garten, seeing the Ospreys, but sadly they didn’t return this year, so we walked in the beautiful Anagach woods in Grantown instead.

A wonderful walk through mixed woodland, with lots of birds, and some very cute red squirrels!

Also, a man in a kilt walking his dog who was very proudly telling us how much he loved his forest!

Then we headed northeast, past Inverness, to the Black Isle, a promontory next to the Moray Firth. First stop, Udale Bay to look for birds with the interesting spectacle of huge oil rigs in the bay which had been towed in for maintenance.

Some of them are huge!

At the tip of the promontory is the charming town of Cromarty, which we loved.It had lovely views, cute cottages, and some interesting Georgian architecture.

Full of history, it contained some interesting museums. We visited the old East church, and then the Hugh Miller house and museum. He was a local lad who became a Geologist in the late 18th century, and who, throughout work with fossils, began looking at evolution.

He also spearheaded the split of the Scottish Free church from the Church of Scotland, but is relatively unknown. The Courtyard garden contained art inspired by his work.

We also found this interesting(?) mnemonic for remembering geological eras!

Then to our stop for the night, the super Camping and Caravan club site at Rosemarkie which runs along the back of the beach and has very friendly wardens! Before supper, we did a lovely 1 hour walk up the Fairy Glen in Rosemarkie to the 2 pretty waterfalls at the top.

Then supper in the van, listening to the wind increasing in intensity! This was important, because we had to go out again, so putting on all our warm layers and waterproofs we braved the elements. We walked for 20 minutes to Chanonry Point at the end of the promontory for a very special encounter.

Approximately 1 – 2 hours after low tide, at this time of year, the incoming tide brings shoals of salmon up the Firth, heading upstream to spawn. These pass close to the end of the point, and they are often pursued by hungry dolphins! We waited for about 40 minutes, and, were just about to give up, when, at 9.30pm, they arrived, and we spent another 30 minutes watching fins dashing back and forth in a frenzy of feeding. The pictures are poor because they were moving fast in fading light.

They gave the occasional leap in the air!

This blurry shot is here because it shows a huge salmon tossed in the air. What an encounter!

Next day was a lovely pause from travelling to meet up with our friend Diana, who moved up to this delightful area last year. We met her for coffee in the tiny, and much more delightful than it sounds, Slaughterhouse coffee shop back in Cromarty.

Then a visit to the old Court House Museum and jail, which had fascinating displays about the history of the town, including dark days of poverty when the fishing industry collapsed, and how the North Sea Oil business has helped transform it’s fortunes. Our catch up continued over lunch in the super Sutor Creek restaurant, where the Scottish mussels were superb!

Finally back to Rosemarkie to visit the Groam museum of Pictish stones. These are found locally, and date back to both pre and early Christian eras.

They are beautiful designs, sometimes very intricate. The museum is also dedicated to George Bain, an artist born in 1881 who was fascinated by Celtic art patterns, and wanted to demonstrate how they could be interpreted and used in contemporary ways.

His body of work is kept at the museum, along with examples of what he inspired across many mediums… even knitting patterns!

We said our goodbyes, and turned south, as this was our furthest point north on this trip. We crossed the Moray Firth again near Inverness, and turned east for our free Britstop…. The Connage Highland Cheese Dairy and Pantry… we were looking forward to the shop opening in the morning!!

Part 4 Mountains!

Our objectives for our trip to Scotland were threefold. 1. To attempt a trip with no forward planning at all. 2. In the face of a fairly poor long range weather forecast, to try to dodge the rain as much as possible, and 3. To visit places in Scotland that neither of us had been to before. So, with our route starting to look as though a fly had stood in the ink, and was wandering around the page, it was time to head east again!

Our first stop was Inverary castle, delightfully situated near the head of Loch Fyne. The current castle was started in 1746 to a design by Vanburgh, and was easily the most beautiful one we had seen.

Home to the Duke of Argyll and his young family, it really felt like a loved and lived in home, albeit a very grand one! The main state rooms were stunning, especially the walls and ceilings, which were all original, and so pretty.

Even the weaponry was stylishly arranged!

Outside, the gardens were so well cared for, and again, we had arrived at peak Rhododendron time.

Leaving here, we had picked a nice looking route which headed southeast along the side of Loch Long, thinking we would stop for a late lunch picnic somewhere with a nice view. We were puzzled that there was not one parking place along it’s whole length, but the reason became clear when we reached a small port with MOD fencing around it. A Google search revealed it was the nuclear warhead storage and loading Bay for our nuclear subs!! We didn’t stop to take photos!

A few miles further on and we were passing Faslane our Submarine base proper, closely followed by a tiny cluster of multi coloured graffiti caravans, a peace camp. Our objective was Dumbarton, where there was a museum of shipbuilding. It was all that remained of the shipyards of William Denny, ship designers and builders since the 1800’s. They built the Cutty Sark, and many paddle steamers, ferries frigates and even hovercraft. At the heart of this museum was the 100 metre long testing tank, and some of the beautiful models that were built for testing on it, prior to being created in full size.

We had read that wild camping near Loch Lomond was very difficult, and required the purchase of a permit, and so were rather surprised to find the we could stop free of charge at the car park of the Duncan Mills Memorial railway, adjacent to the Loch Lomond steamship, the Lady of the Lake, which is being restored.

A nice evening walk along the lakeshore was followed by a sound night’s sleep.

Next day we skipped Conik hill as it was hidden in low cloud, and headed for Dukes Pass and the slightly off road Forest Drive, a pretty 7 mile track which passes several lochs. We stopped and did some walks, but were surprised at the scarcity of bird life here.

Then on to lovely Loch Katrine where we had a very enjoyable trip on the 100 year old steam ship, Sir Walter Scott, built at Denny shipyard!

This tiny boat was also steam powered!

We also visited Loch Awe, Brig o’Turk and Loch Venachar before heading to our first campsite for 6 days, the excellent Blair Drummond walled site. It enabled us to get laundry done and catch up with all the housekeeping, as well as visit it’s nearby castle.

Castle Doune is a striking building which is remarkably intact considering it was built in 1380.

This was the huge kitchen fireplace, and these were the marks where they sharpened knives!

Run by historic Scotland, it has a truly excellent, and very amusing, audio guide narrated by Terry Jones of Monty Python fame, for this is the castle that featured in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. The historical guide was interspersed with audio clips from the film, and it was fun to see visitors split between those who were grinning, or even giggling as they listened intently, and those who just looked baffled… mainly the many foreign visitors. It was my favourite castle of the trip so far!

Next day we turned North and headed for the Cairngorm mountains, stopping at Scone Palace on the way. Again HHA, so free admission, and another excellent and fascinating visit.

Home to the Murray clan, it sets out the history of the family, including their role in the abolition of slavery, but more importantly tells the tale of how, since 840AD, all the Kings of Scotland were crowned here on the Moot Hill mound.

At each coronation all the visiting nobles brought soil from their home and emptied it onto the mound, so it was as if the King was crowned on the soil of all his kingdom. They sat on the stone of Scone, until King Edward pinched it in 1296 and took it to London. In 1996 it was returned to the new Scottish parliament in Edinburgh. The gardens were again beautiful, and contained a lovely laburnum arch.

There was another maze, with an interesting centrepiece

and some peacocks, including a very unusual white one.

We resumed our journey north, stopping at Blairgowrie for provisions, and then driving up into the mountains to Braemar, where we turned on down a minor road to the Lin of Dee. This spot is where the river is squeezed through a small gorge.

It is also the start of a gorgeous walk following the river upstream and onto the moors. We hardly saw a soul!

Now onto our poshest wild camp. Her Majesty kindly makes spaces available for motorhomes to stop free of charge on her car park at Balmoral! Thank you ma’am.

Next day was devoted to walks.. firstly at the Muir of Dinnett, a National Nature Reserve with 2 excellent walks. A 3.5 mile walk passing Loch Dinnett where we saw Red Kite, Goldeneye ducks with chicks, and Oystercatcher and Lapwing nesting in the fields.

On the hill was a beautiful Pictish stone, over 1000 years old.

Then a second walk to Burn o’vat, a beautiful waterfall hidden in an almost circular cauldron carved out by water and swirling rocks.

Access was through a slippery, wet scramble, but the atmosphere inside was quite magical.

We then drove through Ballater, where the proximity to Balmoral is evidenced by the shops proudly displaying the Royal crests.

Then, down a narrow lane to the Glen of Muick (pronounced Mick). This isolated valley is wild Cairngorms at it’s best.

The waterside fields were full of ground nesting birds, including the elusive Black Grouse, a first for us both.

The biggest treat was the arrival of a herd of Red deer.

They were fairly tolerant of humans, and demonstrated that 4 feet is really not high enough for a deer fence, by jumping over it!!

As we left, the sun came out, so we decided to drive north across the snow road high in the Cairngorms, past Lecht ski area. The top was Windy, wild and wonderful!

We thought we might have spotted a Golden Eagle circle high above a mountain top, bit it never came close enough to confirm.

We descended to the Spey valley, and to a wildcamp on the riverside, adjacent to a fishing area. Fishermen came and went, all casting repeatedly in their quest to catch Salmon which were returning and heading upstream. An idyllic setting and a quiet night!

Part 3 Islands and nearly Islands…Arran and Kintyre

After a remarkably quiet night we awoke to a sunny morning. The ferry to Brodick on Arran took 75 minutes for a very reasonable £28.

Recently the ferry operator Calmac has had to drop their fares to RET, Road Equivalent Tariffs. This has of course been welcomed by many, but means that fares for motorhomes are much lower, so some of the islands, including Arran, are saying there are too many. I suspect in summer this is a real problem, but we saw less than we expected on our visit.

I had wanted to visit Arran since my sons went there on CCF camps with school, and came back with stories of amazing breakfasts, whisky gravy and alarming hikes where they had to be roped together! … I think they may have mentioned scenery and wildlife….. but probably not!

First stop was Brodick castle, set high above the bay, and with beautiful gardens.

It’s claim to fame is as the ancient seat of the Dukes of Hamilton, and is very much the archetypal baronial lodge with hunting trophies adorning the walls, and lovely state rooms. The food in the kitchen looked amazing… despite being fake!

The gardens are splendidly laid out, and were awash with the colours of Rhododendron and Azaleas.

They also had a red squirrel hide, but none there on our visit. A chaffinch wasn’t shy about eating the peanuts though! Look closely!

There was also an interesting book in the library that nearly persuaded me to take up yoga!!

We planned to drive around the islands coast, finding some walks as we went. Climbing the central mountains, including impressive Goat fell at 2866 feet, was not on the agenda!

Our first stop was at stunning Kildonan in the south, looking out towards Ailsa Craig. This strange island is where they source all the granite used to make curling stones!

We walked west past beautiful beaches and rocky shorelines, stopping frequently to watch the shore birds feeding amongst the rocks in the water. Some of the rocks would suddenly move! In fact there were hundreds of seals basking on rocks and in the shallows.

We also found a beautiful waterfall coming down the rocky cliffs, and hidden away in the luxuriant vegetation.It was a magical afternoon.

We continued driving west, and where trying to work out what other islands were coming into view. There was a huge one, very clear, that shouldn’t have been there! Then we realised we were looking at Northern Ireland, just 18 miles away! Heading up the east side, we found a great wild camping spot on a little car park almost on the beach. Heavenly.

Next day was much greyer, and again all day rain was forecast. (We had still managed to dodge it so far!!)

It was still dry, so we headed off to do a walk inland at Machrie, across the bogs and moor to the remains of 6 stone circles of standing stones that were burial chambers for ancient civilisations here about 4000 years ago.

It was remote and beautiful, with the mountains all around, and the grey, lowering clouds really added to the atmosphere!

Returning to Boris, we continued along the coastline to Lochranza, a very pretty harbour with an almost artistically positioned ruined castle.

The rain had still held off, so we decided to do a 4 mile walk over the northern headland to the Fairy Dell and return along the coast. It was a beautiful walk, but at the top of the hill we turned to look back…. and could no longer see the coast we had driven up that morning. A wall of Scotch mist was rolling towards us!

We headed on, with more urgency than before! The rain hit as we were halfway back, giving our waterproofs a good testing! Thankfully they were up to the job!

Returning to Boris, we discovered he had become a shelter for some sheep, and then we spotted some unusual players at the golf course!

We joined the queue at the ferry ramp, and caught the afternoon ferry to Claonaig on Kintyre.

Kintyre is technically a long promontory of the mainland, but only joined by a tiny bridge of land at Tarbert, so it feels like an island. The southernmost tip is the Mull of Kintyre, immortalised by a certain song! Despite the rain, we stuck to our plan to drive right around. The scenery was lovely, but not very photogenic in the mist! We did stop at a bird observatory and see nesting oyster catchers and eider ducks!

Our goal was Big Jessie’s cafe on the west coast, a Britstop where we hoped to spend the night. Arriving at 5.30pm, we were again parked adjacent to the beach, with Oystercatchers, sandpipers and gulls calling on the rising tide. Jessie’s cafe is a great example of isolated communities having to adapt to survive. A really excellent cafe that does breakfasts and dinners for some of the local accommodation, welcomes campervan who will mostly eat there too, and appeared to act as a transit point for deliveries and parcels to the neighbouring island of Gigha. It would have been rude not to sample the food.. and we had superb fish and chips, and of course a local brew!

We knew next day was very, very wet so we opted for a lie in.. and then a Jessie breakfast as brunch to set us up for the day! In fact, the brunch was so amazing, we didn’t eat again all day!

Mine was a speciality called Gigha Rarebit. I asked for bacon on the side, and was served a mini cooked breakfast.

It was certainly Chris’ first ever breakfast that included Haggis!!

Despite the rain, we enjoyed Kintyre. We left through Tarbet, stocking up in the Coop en route, and heading North to the Crinan canal. This pretty canal was built in 1801 as a short cut for Clyde ships heading to the Scottish West coast and islands.

It is very much in use today, although mainly by leisure boating.

The area south of the canal is wild and remote. The rain stopped and we did a fabulous walk down the hilly Taynish peninsula and achieved a great ‘first’ for us both… we saw not one, but two sea otters. Fantastic. Sadly no photos though! Then we visited Knapdale Forest which was the site of the much publicised beaver reintroduction. We had an excellent evening guided walk with the 2 very enthusiastic rangers. We held a beaver skin, and saw their webbed feet, and incredibly dexterous ‘hands’.

We saw their lodge, a dam and lots of gnawed trees!

Interestingly, beavers are vegetarian, and will crop trees for both food and lodge building, but they do not destroy them. They effectively coppice them, leaving them for long periods to regrow. They also only build dams if absolutely necessary, for example in times of drought, to conserve water. A fascinating evening .. but it was too windy to spot the beavers themselves!

We enjoyed another peaceful night, this time sheltered in the forest!