Getting back home mid-August the plan was to spend a few months at home in York, maybe spend Christmas with my mother and sister, then off to Portugal in January to sit out the rest of the winter. The prospect of four months house-based living meant occasional Moho-based outings were needed just to keep our hands in. I subscribe to a motorhome forum called Wild Camping which offers Meets, which can big and lively (and not our kind of thing), and Mini-meets which are organised by individual members and are small and local. The one that caught my eye was up in the Scottish highlands over the weekend of 13 to 16 October. Perfect: we have not been to Scotland in the van and it was well outside midge season! It was shaping up to be seven or eight vans in a field beside a member’s house/herb nursery in the middle of nowhere south west of Inverness. We were promised barbecues, bonfires and walks; a day trip to Inverness and an optional Sunday lunch at a pub overlooking Loch Ness. It all sounded rather weather-dependent and, despite storms being forecast for the days before, the weekend itself was looking bright, if breezy.
Having mostly only been to to the Dumfries and Galloway area or around Loch Lomond, I was surprised to find it is quite long way from York to our spot near Inverness – 354 miles to be precise. So we decided to take an extra couple of nights en route.
Portia was going well apart from some concerns about her leisure battery. We would be several nights without electric hook up, probably not much sun and, once there, no driving to top the level up. The battery did not seem to hold a charge well and the read-out from the solar control panel is not wholly reliable. A discussion about how many hours you can run anything before it drops from 12.7 (full) to 12.25 (empty) tends to get heated. Then you turn something off and it jumps back up to 12.6 anyway. And it has been down to 11.8 and still going strong in the past. Enquiring of the hosts it turned out that they also ran a small CL (proper parking for five vans) with hook up – £10.00 a night. The meet in the field was free but if push came to shove we could wimp over to the CL and plug in.
Unsure of the etiquette about arrival times, time to cover the distance, or facilities once there, we chose to go two nights early and make two stops on the way, so as to arrive emptied and filled just in case. Scotland, unlike England, is very nice to motorhomers and you can generally park overnight anywhere you are not making a nuisance of yourself. The car park in Jedburgh town centre looked interesting but we got there much sooner than expected so, after a brief refreshment stop, we kept going up the A68. Wild Camping has a very useful map of stopping places which showed a pub car park in Pathhead, not that far south of Edinburgh. It is a bit close to the road for a very peaceful night: the A68 is scenic, narrow (for a main road) and surprisingly popular with swift-moving, early rising artics. We felt honour-bound to eat in the pub restaurant though.
Scotland had welcomed us in time-honoured fashion but it cleared up later
and we enjoyed the wide open skies and hills en route to our next stop in Carrbridge. This was another rural CL beside a picturesque river and its even more picturesque old packhorse bridge – severely damaged in a muckle spate several years ago it is now decorative only.
We had missed the Carrbridge 24th Annual Golden Spurtle World Porridge Making Championship by only six days! It’s in the diary for next year though.
We arrived at the meet site and backed ourselves into a sheltered corner, footled with the satellite and then moved across to the more exposed side where there was a possibility of getting a glimpse of satellite low in the southern sky. It makes a difference being so far north! Nice spot! Wide valley, high hills, highland cattle, friendly fellow campers.
The first evening was a shared picnic themed around “children’s favourites” and we sampled chocolate cracklettes, marshmallows, jellies and assorted goodies. And real food! There were about a dozen of us sitting around a couple of braziers in the yard of the house as the sun went down. A very good evening. Next day we joined the group going to Inverness on the local bus – and discovered that English bus passes don’t work in Scotland:-( £13.00 return for two!! But it was a drive of about thirty minutes. So not bad value on the whole.
We sought out the famous and truly amazing Leakey’s bookshop where a passing opera student gave an impromptu performance of an aria from Cose fan tutti from the balcony. There was an arts festival in progress in town and all through the streets – what a bonus.
Being the Capital of the Highlands, Inverness also hosts a very interesting and manageable-sized museum and art gallery( free). The Monarch of the Glen was visiting as part of a national tour. Amazing!
Saturday night was the bonfire and barbecue and the weather stayed fair enough (if a bit breezy) to go ahead. More food than you could shake a stick at materialised from the surrounding vans and we ate nicely charred sausages, chicken, ribs and salad. Musical instruments appeared (sadly no bagpipes) and we sang a few ditties as the stars came out. The weather deteriorated overnight. Next morning a warning “Low Battery” message flashed across the TV screen where the radio was playing. Oops. Plan B was put into action and we moved the fifty yards from field to CL. Will definitely need a new leisure battery – checking back through documentation we concluded the existing one was five years old so ripe for renewal in any case.
Sunday lunch beside Loch Ness was good – neither of us had the haggis and neeps. The wind whipped ferociously along the loch and everyone retired to the warmth of their vans for the rest of the day.
Now the weather decided to get nasty. The tail end of hurricane Ophelia was spinning across the North Atlantic making a beeline for the north of Scotland. Weather warnings had been issued. Despite an offer of a parking spot and whisky tasting chez Jim and Elaine on the coast just south of Edinburgh, we decided just to head as far south as possible as fast as possible. We witnessed the strange darkening and reddening of the sun in Pitlochry but our flight south was thwarted by roadwork hold ups and we only made the car park in Jedburgh before stopping for the night. A short tour of the town, Mary Queen of Scots house and the local chippy and we battened down the hatches on a lovely evening thinking we had missed the storm.
Oh no we hadn’t. The van was rocked and buffeted all night and in the morning a last spiteful gust whipped the habitation door out of Neil’s hand and slammed it back against the side of the van. The door stay was wrecked but no other damage done and at least now the door opens fully!