Haltwhistle

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Left Loch Lomond after talking to Ivan and learning that he and Jas have definitely bought the house in Auckland. Great news! Had lovely drive down to Glasgow, across the Erskine bridge in glorious sunshine, then down to Haltwhistle in Northumberland. Pitched at a lovely quiet Camping and Caravanning Club site and went for a walk in the sunshine along the river South Tyne past a castle. Met a large group of ramblers who invited us to join them next year for the Haltwhistle walking festival. Talked to a fisherman who had jsut caught a trout before returning for a relax and a fiddle. Great holiday – lovely autumn colours.

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Loch Lomond

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Left Oban and drove along beautiful lochside across amazing bridges and down a 2 mile very narrow and twisty single-track road to Inverawe Smokery. We had a superb visit looking round the smokery and learning about the process, spent a fair bit of money in the shop before doing a one hour walk down to the loch. Then we felt confident about driving back down the narrow lane, but immediately took a wrong turn to do another tour of the smokery! Once on the right road, after meeting no other traffic on the way in, we were confronted by 2 low loaders carrying a container, much to Lynda’s horror, but Kurt managed to get past with his excellent driving skills! Next stop was Inveraray which we last visited 16 years ago in our Calibra. This time we visited the castle which has the tallest room in the whole of Scotland, with the walls festooned with pikes, swords, muskets etc. We are now at Luss on Loch Lomond, having just enjoyed our delicious organic roast smoked salmon from Inverawe. Yum!

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Oban

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Left Killin and had a beautiful drive in the sunshine along the valleys via Crianlaroch, Tyndrum and Rannoch Moor to Glencoe. Stopped to take photos on Rannoch Moor and was thrilled to see a Golden Eagle! Then spent a couple of hours at the excellent Glencoe Visitor Centre where we had lunch then walked to the site of the massacre of the MacDonalds in 1692. From there we had another beautiful drive along the side of various lochs to the lovely Camping and Caravanning Club site in a walled garden near Oban. Took a walk down to the beach to admire the boats and lovely views, then walked in the forest park.

On Saturday we took the bus to Oban where we walked round the harbour and along the esplanade, had lunch in a pub (soup and chips) then got the bus back. We were picked up at 7 along with 4 other campers to be taken to the Creagan Inn for a meal. It is a lovely situation at the head of the Loch and we sat by the window looking out over the terrace and fire and the loch. Kurt had mussels and lamb and I had smoked salmon and scallops – all local. Spent a pleasant evening chatting to the couple at the next table, who had come from Derby. There were lots of stars when we got back to the van and we saw the Milky Way.

On Sunday we cycled south to try to buy a paper, but misunderstood the directions, with the result that we did a 2 mile round trip in vain. We stopped at the van for a coffee as it started to rain, then cycled north along the excellent, surfaced Caledonia Way to Creagan. There we took the 9.5 mile Appin Loop, eventually arriving at Port Appin where we saw the ferry  to Lismore and the mountains of Mull in the distance. Stopped at the Creagan Inn on the way back for a lager and mocha before cycling the final couple of miles back to the site for a well-earned rest and shower.

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Killin

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Visited Blair Castle then drove via Pitlochry and the river Tay to Kenmore where we had lunch by the side of Loch Tay. We were last here a couple of years ago in deep snow in December, so it was a relief to drive on snow-free roads. Stopped for the night at the Caravan Club Maragowan site which we last visited 8 years ago and pitched right by the river. Walked into the village to look at the Falls of Dochart and had a drink at the pub where we met a friendly couple from Glasgow.

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Nairn to Blair Atholl

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First visit of the day was to Fort George, on a headland opposite Rosemarkie. This fort is still in use as an army barracks for various highland regiments and we spent a cold couple of hours walking round the remparts, visiting the chapel and the historic barracks. We then took the A9 south via Aviemore, where we saw our first snow-capped mountains, to Newtonmore, where we stopped at the excellent Highland Folk Museum. We could have spent a whole day there looking round all the old buildings, but the highlight was visiting the C18 recreated township with very basic cottages (with heather, gorse or straw roofs) with peat fires burning, the old steading and the school where the schoolmaster told us off for being late. We learnt that several people would share a box bed andthat they would sleep sitting up, as they couldn’t lie down because of the peat smoke which would make them cough – apparently lung cancer was a common cause of death. We would definitely recommend a visit to this museum. We spent the night at Blair Castle Caravan Park, with the most luxurious facilities we have come across so far.

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Lairg to Nairn

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Left Lairg and drove to the beautiful Falls of Shin, hoping in vain to see leaping salmon. It was a beautiful drive along country lanes, with the leaves starting to turn, to Bonar Bridge at the head of Dornoch Firth, where we saw a feature of huge rocks from different parts of Scotland. Had super views of the firth on the drive over to Dingwall and Strathpeffer, where we stopped at the Highland Museum of Childhood and I saw a Bayko construction set, which I remember fondly from my childhood, although it wouldn’t be allowed nowadays on grounds of health & safety! Had homemade soup and oatcakes for lunch at the Old Station Cafe, then ended up at the Camping & Caravanning Club’s Nairn site, which is in a lovely forest where we saw lots of playful red squirrels.

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Heading south at last

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Left John O’Groats fairly early and drove to Dunnet Head which is the most northerly point of the British mainland, then via Thurso along the north coast through increasingly wild but beautiful scenery along single-track roads to Tongue where we turned south. Bettyhill was a lovely coastal village we passed though with a long sandy beach popular with surfers, even at this time of year, which we would like to revisit. Followed a single-track A road with passing places for 40 miles to Lairg, where we pitched at Dunroamin (!!) Caravan Park for the night and went for a walk in the forest. Looked on the Telegraph website and were horrified at the reports of  the damage in the recent storms in Scotland and the rest of the UK – we count ourselves very lucky to have survived without incident so far. Even a lorry was blown over at Glencoe (gulp!).

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Orkney Islands

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Again very windy in the night but miraculously the wind had dropped by dawn and we were able to book our places on the last Orkney day tour of the season. Moved the van out to the car park as the campsite was closing for the winter today, then took the 9.00 passenger ferry from John O’Groats to Burwick on Orkney (40 mins). It was a beautiful clear and sunny day and a relatively calm crossing of the dangerous Pentland Firth to Burwick where our coach was waiting. Our tour took us over the Churchill Barriers, constructed by Italian POWs during the WWII, where we could see rusted hulks of ships sunk to block the channels before the barriers to Scapa Flow were built. First stop was at Kirkwall where we had a quick coffee and cake at The Reel, a cafe cum music school run by the Wrigley Sisters, before heading on to Stromness, where we had a fish and chip lunch at The Ferry Inn and walked round the one-street but charming town. Next stop was the fantastic UNESCO World Heritage Site Skara Brae, a Neolithic village in an excellent state of preservation, and Skaill House. Then on to the Ring of Bradgar, a ring of 27 but formerly 60 standing stones, Ness archeological site, still in progress,  Stennes Standing Stones and Maes Howe burial chamber, before heading back to Kirkwall to visit St Magnus Cathedral. The modern font there was beautiful and decorated with a polished sea pebble from each of the parishes on Orkney. It also contains the tomb of explorer John Rea who discovered what had happened to the first explorers of the North West passage in Canada. He was reviled for reporting that these people had resorted to cannibalism in their efforts to survive, but was vindicated after his death. The cathedral contains the bell of the Royal Oak, rescued from the ship sunk in Scapa Flow by a U-boat in WWII with the loss of over 800 lives. There is a strong connection with Norway, as the islands formerly belonged to Norway, and the flag of Orkney is very similar to the Norwegian flag, which we often saw flying, and many of the houses had a Norwegian look about them. Finally we visited the Italian Chapel, built by Italian POWs from the few materials available to them – bully beef tins, cardboard, concrete, before returning to Burwick for the ferry back to John O’Groats. It was an excellent day out that we can certainly recommend.

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John O’Groats

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We left Rosemarkie and the Black Isle and drove over several estuaries and impressive bridges up the A9 to John O’Groats. The weather got gradually better and the scenery was really beautiful; Loch Fleet in particular was somewhere we would like to revisit. The tress got sparser as we approached John O’Groats and most of the houses were single-story, with lots of ruined cottages on the hillsides. We expected John O’Groats to be a let down, but in fact it was the end of the season with very few people around and it seemed much less tacky than Land’s End. We arrived at John O’Groats in brilliant sunshine and decided to stay on the campsite there so we could do a walk to the spectacular stacks of Duncansby Head and perhaps take a day trip to the Orkneys the next day. The walk was wonderful; we saw lots of seals basking in the shallows and gannets plunging into the sea. There were only 5 vans on the site as it closes for the season tomorrow.

Saturday – no boat trip as the ferry is cancelled due to very windy weather over the Pentland Firth, which is one of the most dangerous shipping channels in the world.

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Findhorn & Rosemarkie

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Left Tarland with a choice of 3 routes up to the New Age Community of Findhorn. Only one of these was passable as the other two roads were closed due to flooding. First visited Findhorn village and marina where I tasted the best shortbread ever – homemade. Then went to the Community and walked round looking at the ecohouses before buying sourdough bread then heading off for Inverness. The weather got worse as we got nearer but fortunately the Kessock Bridge was open this time (last time we were here it was closed due to high winds). It was a relief to leave Inverness behind and head north (ask Kurt!) to the Black Isle. The rain was torrential as we approached Rosemarkie campsite, but it is a wonderful setting right on the beach of the Moray Firth, where we hope to be able to see dolphins.

We walked along the beach watching the seabirds and looking for otters and dolphins, but only saw oystercatchers, cormorant, lots of seagulls and the paw prints of what we thought was a wild cat. In Rosemarkie we went to th Groam museum where we saw the pictish stones. After lunch we took the bus to Cromarty where we visited the Hugh Miller house (National Trust for Scotland) and walked round the harbour. as soon as we got back we walked along the beach in the other direction to the lighthouse but didn’t see any dolphins again!.

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