Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Our Scottish Tour - Part 2

Scotland Day 5
Sunday 29th May 2016

Well, last night as planned we parked up, along with 5 or 6 other vans, at the disused ski lift station that is about half way up Cairngorm mountain. We've overnighted there once before, but I hadn't been able to recall the spot until we were nearly there, however once we arrived my memory was jogged!  We arrived about 4pm, so after a quick cuppa we set off for a walk over a rough and boggy trail in the high moorland surrounding the mountain, but other than a few birds, we only managed to spot the human variety of wildlife!

But there was still some snow about!

Monday morning we woke to clear bright warm sunshine, and while we sat sipping our coffee a herd of about 9 deer scuttled down the hillside, causing nearly all the ‘campers’to reach for their binoculars to watch their procession - it made a change from rabbits!

And after that little show it was time to get on the road again - but today our journey was only to be about 60 miles - we were headed for The Black Isle, and more specifically, Cromarty where we were hoping  to spot dolphins.  

T4rdis2 is the first van on the left
However, at this stage of our journey we were a little bit worried about where we would be sleeping - I’d already enquired at both Camping and Caravan sites on the Isle and they were full, so we knew we would have to find another ‘wild-camp’ for tonight.  And that turned out to be very easy! We drove into Cromarty village where we found a large grassed area directly above the shingle beach, and where several other vans had already staked their claim, so we promptly joined them.  The camp sites were asking for  £33 per night - we couldn't have asked for a nicer spot - and ours is free!  

The view from T4rdis2's windscreen

Having said that, we did find ourselves slightly disappointed with our view!   To our right it was off the arms of North and South Sutors, reaching out, and the open ocean beyond. 

However  to our left there was an area of industrial paraphernalia and oil rigs anchored just off shore.  Apparently, an oil platform construction and repair yard was opened here in 1972, and at that time it was the largest dry dock in the world.  Nowadays, platforms are brought into the Cromarty Firth  for refitting and repair work, or sometimes just anchored there when not in use.

Following lunch we walked out to the headland over a path that clings to the edge of South Sutor but we weren't lucky enough to spot any dolphins, however, we did learn about a folk-tale that dates back for many years.  ‘Souter’ is Scottish for a shoemaker, and the local legend has it that the North and South Sutors are named after two giant shoemakers who shared their tools and flung them across from one arm to the other!

The path that we were following was mostly through heavily wooded land, and at one point we came across a fallen tree that I doubted I could pass.  John advised me to ‘limbo’ under it ‘I replied I will if you will’ - I crawled under but he tried!

Following our walk it was back to T4rdis2 for tea, but I just don’t seem to be able to get my timing right!  We ended up eating at 8.45pm - and now I'm typing this at 10pm and it’s still broad daylight outside!  Also, I was keeping an eye on the incoming tide - while I was watching the gentle waves were lapping on the shore about 10 yards away - if it had come much further T4rdis2 may have got her feet wet and we might have been paddling by morning!

Scotland Day 6
Monday 30th May 2016

Our question this morning was 'what shall we do next' - 'should we stay another day on the Black Isle, or should we head further north' Also, we needed to consider the fact that after 3 nights of 'wild-camping' T4rdis2 was in need of ablutions! Therefore, we 'dithered' about if we should try one of the Isle's 2 campsites, or should we head off to Wick. In the end we decided on the latter, mainly because the Black Isle had failed to offer the dramatic coastal scenery that we love, and we knew this would be waiting for us further up the coast. And we weren't disappointed - we followed the A9 and A99 coastal route for about 100 miles, and as we went we were frequently treated to stunning coastal vistas that I had the time to drink in and admire but poor John could only glimpse as we travelled along!

On the way up we stopped off to replenish our supplies (at Lidl), and then completed our journey by mid afternoon, however finding the campsite proved to be something of a challenge! We had looked it up on the internet earlier, so we knew that the main entrance was guarded by a low bridge (2.8 metres) that T4rdis2 would be unable to negotiate, but the info offered an alternative route, so we thought we would be fine - the problem was finding it. After 2 drive rounds we stopped and asked someone, and he directed us down a steep and narrow dirt track that led along through a children's playground and then by a river. It was probably about half a mile in all, and when we finally arrived we breathed a sigh of relief that we hadn't met anything coming the other way because there were absolutely no opportunities to pass!

Scotland Day 7
Tuesday 31st May 2016

Our plan is to stay put for another night so today we headed off to explore Wick and it's surrounding points of interest. We left the campsite via the track that we had negotiated yesterday and headed for The Castle of Old Wick which can trace it's history back to the days of the Vikings.

Today the castle is a gaunt ruin that stands like a beacon on the cliff tops to the south of the town, and just below it, if you use your imagination, the cliff seems to have the face of an old man hewn into it - hence the monument is also known as The Old Man of Wick!

The coastal scenery around the site is much more in line with what we'd been looking for, and as we walked back towards the town we were treated to many dramatic vistas.

One of them being the ' Trinkie' - a seawater filled pool that sits on a huge flattened area of rock that has numerous massive flat layers forming ridges and steps that were just asking to be explored - so we did!

It was also in this area that we came across hundreds of nesting Terns! Apparently, they commonly attack humans if they wander to near to their nests, so when a large flock rose up and started squawking we decided it was time to go. However, a short while later we spotted several birds of prey swooping about, so maybe it was them that they were warning off!

From here we were soon back in The Old Town of Wick and we had another important decision to make - Should we have fish and chips, or should we visit our old favourite - Weatherspoons! The former might have won out if the weather had been a bit better, but as it was cold and overcast, we decided on the warm and welcoming confines of the latter. And we were very glad we did, we enjoyed a 'Highland Burger' and chips with whiskey sauce (a burger topped with haggis), along with a pint of one of their guest beers.

The old harbour with the herring boats drying their sails
It was also while we were having our dinner that I took the time to find out a little bit more about Wick's interesting history. Apparently, the town's name has Viking origins - The old Norse title was 'Vik' which means bay. Wick is also famed for herring fishing in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, it is said that by 1840 the town was exporting more than 55,000 barrels of cured herrings, and the women became so fast at preparing them that they could gut and sort them into size at a rate of 40 fish a minute! Apparently, during those times it was not unusual for 500 gallons of whiskey to be drank in a single day - but I don't expect that was by the women who had the delightful job above!

After lunch we did wander up to The Pulteney Whiskey Distillery but we had missed the tour and the visitors area was heaving with a coach full of foreign holidaymakers - we couldn't really hear ourselves think! However, our interest was tweaked by the fact that in the 2016 World Whiskies Awards The Old Pulteney 1989 vintage had taken the title of the world's best single malt! Maybe in the near future we'll treat ourselves to a bottle from a local supermarket but I don't expect we'll be able to afford that vintage!  

And then it was time to head back home to T4rdis2, but on the way we did pass another of Wick's claims to fame. At just 6 feet 9 inches Ebenezer Place is noted in The Guinness Book of Records as being officially the shortest street .......in the world!

Click here to see our UK camping spots