Thursday, 9 June 2016

Our Scottish Tour - Part 4

Scotland Day 13
Monday 6th June 2016

Today T4rdis2 took us into the UNKNOWN!!!

We had spent the night 'Wild-Camping' in a small car park that had oceanic views and overlooked Strathy Point Lighthouse - a place we had visited yesterday.  For anybody interested, the spot is just a few miles west of the village of Reay, and has a small Marie Currie Cancer Memorial walled garden that, even at this time of year, was still full of fluttering daffodils, and although there were lots of visitors in the day, by evening we found ourselves all alone with the peace and solitude that was all around us!

We woke to another glorious day, and once fed and watered, we took to the road again and wended our way towards Bettyhill where we stopped off to see the Farr Stone.  The stone is a Pictish cross-slab dating from the eighth or ninth century and can be found in the graveyard behind the Strathnaver Museum.   A local story claims that the Farr Stone appeared suddenly overnight after a foreign vessel had been seen at anchor in the nearby bay, and it is thought that the two intertwined birds at the base of the cross may be swans or doves - maybe a symbol of peace.

And our next adventure was where we entered into the 'UNKNOWN', and dared to go where most motorhomes would fear to roll - we're not called T4rdis2 for nothing!    

Following the signs we entered onto  a narrow forest trail, (which was an unmade road), and early in our journey we did debate if we should continue or turn back, but that was almost a mute point as there were very few places were we could have turned a 7.5 metre vehicle around - and only 3 passing places down the whole two and a half mile track! 

Eventually, we reached a shady glen where a totem pole towered over us and where information boards told us we would have to go on a little uphill walk to find what we had come to see.

The UNKNOWN turned out to be an iron 'outcast' standing at the top of a Lonesome pine trail surveying the distant  landscape, and your first glimpse of him is quite awe inspiring.  

However, once we had been there for a while we did think he looked a little undernourished so John offered to give him a lift back down to T4rdis2 for a quick snack - but he declined so we left him to his lonely vigil.  

Anyway, as we had safely made it both ways on the road mentioned above we decided to have another little excursion towards Torrisdale Bay - another stunning coastal spot where we paused for lunch, and took a walk over the Borgie River that is famous for leaping salmon - but all we managed to spot were a couple of minnows!

And by now, John had got quite daring with narrow roads, so we were soon on our way down another single track road that runs along side Loch Loyal, and it was here that we were hopeful of finding our parking place for the night - but it wasn't to be.  So once again we retraced our steps and turned T4rdis2 towards Tongue - where another absolutely breathtakingly beautiful vista opened up, forcing us to pull over for more pics.  

The bay to the left is  Coldbackie Sands, and along with it's caves, dunes and rock pools, you can see the iron ribs of the sailing ship Onega which was wrecked there in 1862, and the Island is called Rabbit!

Then finally, we didn't go much further  before we found ourselves on a causeway that crosses the Kyle of Tongue, and would you believe it,  we had only crossed over by a short distance when an ideal parking area popped up, so tonight, when the tide comes in (apparently at 1am), we will be almost entirely surrounded by water, and  more distantly by Benn Hope, Benn Loyal, and Benn Tongue - But not a Ben Varney in sight!

(PS for our kids - does Iron Man remind you of anyone form your childhood days! ha ha)

Scotland Day 14
Tuesday 7th June 2016

Well, we didn't spend last night alone, we were joined by 4 other motorhomes, and we had the pleasure of getting to know a German couple who were parked up next to us.  Both last night, and again this morning we spent time chatting and exchanging coordinates for wild camping places, and then the boys spent a while showing off their motorhome gadgets to each other!

Once back on the road, we continued to follow the main A838, which continued as a single track with passing places, but our slow speed only enhanced our viewing pleasure as we rounded the calm waters of the seawater Loch Eriboll, and then crested a hill allowing us to gaze down on what is locally known as 'The Beach of the Burn of the Old Woman'!  It is said that this strange name resulted when an old woman who was gathering peat, paused for a drink from a swollen Burn but she stumbled and fell in, resulting in her body being carried downstream and being washed up on the beach the next day!

In the morning sunlight the beach really could have been mistaken for somewhere you might have found on a far flung dessert island,  but as we looked further out to sea we could see a low mist rolling in, and then it didn't take long until everything was shrouded, and that pretty much set the scene for the rest of the day!

You can just see the 'planks at the bottom of the picture
and the guy clinging to the wall is Colin!

However, not to be deterred, we pitched up on Durness Campsite, which has magnificent views  over another craggy sandy beach, and then following lunch, we set off to visit Smoo Cave.  And little did we know - our expedition would end up with us walking the plank!

Apparently, the massive first chamber of the cave was formed by the action of the sea, but the inner chambers are freshwater passages, and partway through the cave the waters of The Allt Smoo river drop forming a 20 metre high waterfall.

The first chamber, and access to view the waterfall are free to enter, but it is also possible to access the deeper chambers by boat - the tour guide being a very droll chap called Colin.

Now, we thought that once we were in the boat (which turned out to be a rubber dingy), we would just be able to sit  and have a pleasant little ride through a cave system - but it didn't quite turn out like that!  But to start at the beginning, we joined the queue, and asked 'how many can you take at once?'  Colin replied 'depends on your size - I can probably take 16 children or maybe 6 fat hairy bikers!' - so we really weren't sure where we fitted in!  Anyway, in the end our group consisted of 8 fairly normal sized people - so we felt fairly safe - that was until we had to clamber down a steel ladder and sit on the edge of the inflatable with nothing much to hold onto.

At this stage Colin also asked us to make sure our hard hats were secure, he said 'your all likely to bump your heads at some stage of the voyage'.  

Then we were off, first ducking under a low bridge, then getting a bit damp from the spray of the waterfall, and next through a narrow aperture that led into the fresh water chambers.  And it was here that we had to climb out of the boat using a rope to pull ourselves up onto a narrow ledge, and continue our journey on foot, traversing along 'planks' and stones that allowed you to walk just above the flowing stream that runs through the cave.  Then Colin said 'in the past the cave has been known to flood to the height of the ceiling!' 

Having said all that, the trip was quite fascinating, and  the very knowledgeable Colin, who has been the tour guide for 20 years, told us all about the fault lines that are responsible for the formation of the caverns, as well as about the neolithic dwellers who used to live there!  He also made it quite clear that this job was only his way of financing his major passion for caving, and that he believed there was much more to be discovered in this cave system.  He went on to say that this would be his major project over the coming years, and that one day, through his continued exploration he would  prove his theory.

If ever your up this way our little trip only cost £4 and was well worth the money - but only go if your reasonably agile  cos you need to clamber about mostly unaided to do it.

Scotland Day 15 and 16
Wednesday and Thursday 8th and 9th June 2016

Well, there really are only so many ways you can describe this fantastic part of the country, so to save becoming boring, I'll try to be concise, and tell you about both days without rabbiting on to much!

On Wednesday we changed our plan from cycling to walking - we had planned to catch the ferry over The Kyle of Durness and cycle to the most north westerly point in Scotland - Cape Wrath.
However, being the 'tight-fisted motorhomers' that we are, when we learnt the return cost would be £6.50 for us and another £8.50 each for our bikes, and that we would have to cross at 9am we didn't bother!  So instead we walked along the other side of the Kyle to Faraid Head - a walk that took us through some massive sand dunes, and had more spectacular views for all of it's duration.
A bellowing cow and ....

We also met a bellowing , cross cow on the beach, maybe she'd lost her way, but when he started running towards us we didn't think it was to ask for directions, so we very quickly aborted our beach walk plan and headed back up into the dunes out of her way!

A 4 eared lamb!

Our lunch stop at Ceannabein beach

On Thursday, we were going to walk, but in the end we cycled - another up hill and down dale jobby! Initially we headed out on a rough trail that headed towards Loch Meadaidh, but as we went  the terrain beneath out wheels ended up being a hiking path and not a biking one - that is we were chucked off and walking more than we were riding!  So we returned the way we had come and took the quite main road back towards Loch Eriboll, but we didn't quite get that far - we stopped off at Ceannabein beach for lunch, and then decided that as the sun was shining so nicely we would go back to T4rdis2 and have a lazy afternoon instead.

However, John soon got talking to the neighbours, and as usual, ended up comparing notes about the various functions of the van, and then it wasn't long before they were both crawling about looking at draining facilities amongst other things.

Tomorrow we plan to move on again, and thanks to a tip from John's little sister Cath, we think our target will be Kinlochbervie, but for now I'll say 'we'll chat again soon' xx