The plan - take one Jeep with a roof-tent, pack it with every piece of crap that will fit, add two people and a dog and head to Scotland for two weeks.
The first day is 300 miles of motorway, M5, M6 to Carlisle then over to Winshield Farm campsite near Hadrian's wall.
The trouble with roof-tents is that you can't park in one place and camp in another. The campsite has two fields, one for tents with separate parking and one that is under water. Luckily the farmer deems the waterlogged field OK for 4x4s with roof-tents. It certainly is wet, but we're sleeping on the roof so no big deal. The day-tent off the back has a tarp/ground sheet and as long as we keep our boots on all is well.
A footpath leads from the farm up the escarpment to the wall. It's an impressive thing the wall and the views along it and beyond it are worth the hike. I can't imagine it was a dream posting for Italians in short skirts and sandals though. The circular path we take takes us past the Twice Brewed. Now an evening in the pub sounds like a plan. Unfortunately the dog isn't welcome. Bugger. A bottle of red and a camp fire isn't a bad plan-B.
The second day starts with a surprise. While packing up I remove the regulator from the gas bottle and the valve doesn't shut. It's quite impressive how much gas comes out of an open unregulated valve. It's quite impressive how far you can throw a gas bottle when you're motivated. Luckily we're alone in the waterlogged field or a neighbouring tent may have had an exciting wake up call.
The first garage we pass sells LPG and Calor. £60 for 100L of LPG and £50 for 2L in a new gas bottle is a bit disproportionate, but we're sorted.
Two-hundred-and-fifty miles takes us past Glasgow and into the highlands and Glencoe. We stop off just into the valley and walk up to a waterfall. We were actually heading for the hidden valley, but it proved too well hidden. Maybe we'll find it on the way back.
A few miles later and we stop at the Red Squirrel campsite. Again we're hit with the roof-tent problem. I ask the guy taking the money and he says "Just park where you can." So we do. Everyone else parks in the parking area and camps in the camping area. We park in the camping area. Well we have to...
It's wet so we go for the full-on wet weather setup. Day-tent, awning. Wind-break and tarp joining to the awning. We settle in for the evening around the campfire. That's when the owner turns up. Apparently "Just park where you can" didn't mean what we thought. We should have been camping in the car-park not the camping area. Ah-well. I guess he should have been a bit more vocal when we checked in. He makes up for it now though. He has a long wheel base Safari land-rover with an expedition-rack and roof-tent. He did Morocco in it in the early 70s with it. Interesting guy, and he really can talk.
We get an early start on Day 3, stopping a couple of miles down the road to wander around the forest then head North West. Lochs, mountains, forests. We get up towards Skye where we'd planned to stop but we're making good time so press on. Applecross is an hour-away, a village on a remote peninsular accessed via the highest pass in Scotland, which is of course the highest pass in Great Britain. A lot is written about this formidable car killing mountain pass. The reality is it's a bit hilly and a bit wiggly. The views are good though, but not from the top, well not today. It's enveloped in cloud and battered by thirty-mile-an-hour winds.
The Applecross Campsite has great views over the bay so we pick the best spot to soak them up. It's windy still, but with some effort we set-up and head down to the rocky beach a short stroll down a footpath right next to where we're pitched. The rain hits hard and fast, so we abort our walk and head for the pub. Beer and the 'legendary' fish-and-chips are welcome. The dog finds some new friend who feed him steak and pudding. He usually does well in pubs.
Back at the campsite we meet Reg, the HorizonsUnlimited photographic mod and his mate. They're travelling somewhat lighter than us on XT250s. We swap stories and it turns out we've all been to the same places in Sweden and Iceland. A bit later Jackie manages to out-talk a travelling Irish fiddle-player, which I suspect is a novel experience for him. Beer, a bottle of red and a campfire finishes the evening. What's turning out to be a wet and windy evening.
You hear it first, this banshee wail that build and builds, roaring into the trees then BANG!!! The tent warps and shakes, defeating the surface tension of the canvas and sprays you with a fine shower of mist. Bloody-hell, I've never, ever, known wind like this. It must be blowing thirty-miles-an-hour and gusting to eighty. The force is enough to rock the Jeep on it's suspension. How the day-tent doesn't take-off and head for Fort-William is beyond me. Or maybe it has.
We emerge on Day 4 slightly damp and battered but amazingly everything it still where we put it and undamaged. I make a mental note to pick camps based on shelter, not view. Luckily the campsite has a laundry and after a couple of hours everything is dry. Well most things. The tent is still damp but we've bailed out the free-standing water which had gathered in the cleverly designed 'moat' in its fibreglass bottom.
Following the coastal road North we get to the start of the trail to the Triple Buttress, a mountain cliff where an RAF bomber crashed in the late fifties, we'd planned to walk up there but six miles in horizontal rain doesn't hold that much appeal. We press on. A few miles later the weather lifts, maybe we should have gone for it? Maybe on the way back? We make do with a walk into a forest instead.
We passed through Glencoe a couple of days ago which is meant to be amongst the most spectacular scenery in Scotland, but I can't say it does much for me. It looks like Snowdonia. No bad thing but it's not unique. But, today we start to see some proper highland scenery. I get a glimpse of what others see in Scotland. It's not bad at all. We pass through Ullapool. It's a picturesque little town with a proper working harbour complete with brightly painted boats. We pick up some waterproof spray for the tent while we're here.
Next stop is Scourie, a nice little bay with a spectacular campsite. It's windy again but the sun is out. I give the tent a spray of waterproofing and lash the tarp over the tent. Para-cord and extra-large re-usable cable-ties are handy things. I've got some duct-tape too, but I don't need it for this job. I suspect there isn't a problem that can't be solved with para-cord, extra-large re-usable cable-ties and duct-tape. Walking the dog along the bay we pass some fishermen. The dog has a good sniff of their fishy bags and pisses on them.... A windy but dry night lets us catch up on our sleep.
It's Day 5 and we're heading for Sandwood bay, just South of Cape Wrath, the highlight of the trip, the bay is two-miles of golden sands backed with dunes and a fresh-water loch. I 'found it' on night poring over Google-Earth in December. It's not accessible by road and you have to hike the four miles in. We're planning on wild-camping the night. It has to be tonight or tomorrow, then we're to heading South.
The drive to Sandwood takes us through wild country and isolated villages. These tiny places are amazing. They all seem to have post offices and schools. Schools? How the hell do 100 people manage to produce enough offspring to support schools?
The weather near Sandwood isn't inspiring. It's still blowing hard and periodic rain showers lash down. We decide to give it a miss today and hope for better weather tomorrow. We make do with a short walk over a headland to an empty beach.
We head up to Sago Sands, right up on the North Coast. Next stop Iceland. The Sago Sands campsite is very exposed standing high on the cliffs over-looking the bay and the North Sea and the wind is still blowing hard. At least it's not gusting. Red wine and a substantial amount of pasta finish off the day.
Day 6 and it's pissing down. Windy too. Driving rain lashes the tent with the odd respite and glimpse of blue sky. Looks like Sandwood bay is off. We pack up and head South. We head for Sandwood anyway, expecting to turn back, but as we get closer the clouds clear and it ends up a perfect day. Blue skies, bright sun, it's even pushing twenty degrees. The wind is still there, but it's plenty good enough. Today we head into Sandwood for the night (full report here
Day 7, we head South through many of the same valleys we used coming up. The views are different this way so it's still new. We end up in Gairloch, or just past it, at the Sands Holiday Park, a large spread-out camp set in dunes at the edge of the beach. It's pretty empty and impressively equipped. It's still windy, it's still wet, but it's not as bad as it has been. More wine...
Day 8 starts with a walk on the beach. The dog finds a four foot eel the thickness of my leg. He pisses on it.
First stop is the Gairloch Trading Post. It's just a sea-side tat-shop with a funky outdoorsy makeover really, but it's got some cool stuff. Jackie buys the worlds most expensive jumper (my first motorbike cost less). I get Jupiter's Travels - I've been meaning to buy it for a while. Next stop is Ullapool where we stock up on wine and food and have lunch at what claims to be Britains best fish-and-chip shop. I'm not going to argue with them and it certainly blows aways the 'famous' fish-and-chips from Applecross. We head back South using the inland route rather than the coast road we'd used on the way up ending at Lochcarron and the Wee Campsite It certainly is. The weather has changed. It's still and dry. For the first time I can sit around camp in a t-shirt rather than my usual giant jumper and Icelandic fur hat. It's actually pleasant. It's a two-bottles of red pleasant.