Monthly Archives: May 2019

Bonnie Scotland – Day 9

Monday 27th May
We left Altnaharra today looking forward to a wonderful drive to Helmsdale. The road follows the railway route we took from Helmsdale to Forsinard, we visited the RSPB reserve there in 2017 during our North Coast 500 trip. We were not disappointed despite the intermittent rain – to be honest intermittent rain was like being in the Carribean to us after having 36 hours rain non-stop – still, that’s what happens in the Highlands. Loch Naver, which is nearly 10km long and average 0.5km, rose about 200mm (8″ in old money) over that period, we were on a loch side pitch but the scuba gear was not required. Previous trips to Scotland had provided us with days of glorious weather, the spell was sure to break at some point. We are not complaining, my literary ineptitude cannot describe the beauty of this wonderful country, rain or shine the visual impact is stunning.

Loch Naver – early morning after the deluge

Loch Naver – the sight from Hilma


The drive from Altnaharra to Helmsdale is approximately 40 miles along single track roads with passing places which took us about 2hrs (and we only had a short coffee break in the middle). Serious concentration is required on these roads with our wheels being only about 12″ from either side of the road (and the sides are very soft and boggy!).

Our coffee stop on the road to Helmsdale saw thes Greylag and goslings


Dornoch was our lunch stop – our good friend Peter in the village at home had put a request in for a bottle of Glen Goyne highland whisky – we were advised the Old Courthouse was the place to go – sure enough they had enough whisky there to satisfy the taste any whisky buff. Ironically the link to our village did not stop there, we noticed some bottle bags that were supplied by our neighbour (they probably won’t order any more now they’ve seen the quality of the neighbourhood he comes from!).
Our target was to get to Loch Ruthven to try and see the elusive Slavonian Grebe. There are only around 20 pairs breeding in the UK and limited to an area around Loch Ness region. We arrived around 5:00pm and were not disappointed, a little bit of a wait but we managed to see 2 on separate parts of the Loch and eventually saw a pair trying out their Olympic synchronised diving skills.

Slavonian Grebe – NOT MY PHOTO t courtesy of Steve Knell


Our overnight stay was a last minute booking as after a long drive I didn’t fancy spending another hour trying to find a wild camp spot so we opted to stay on a handy CL site about 1 mile down the road – The Trout & Grouse at The Steadings (a Johannsson hotel with 5 caravan / motorhome pitches – Luxury). A trip to the bar was in order after our supper and a most convivial chat with our hosts and a couple of Americans who thought Hilma was ‘cute’ when compared to their 28ft RV back home with pull out sides, automatic levellers and an on board ‘hoovering’ system! Close your ears Hilma, you are not getting one!

Bonnie Scotland – Day 8

Sunday 26th May
Raining sheep and deer today. Imagine that.
Off out to lunch today as there seems to be a huge low (or two I suspect) hanging over Scotland and it is not moving away (I don’t really know as we have no way of finding out apart from the printed day’s weather on the warden’s door – no wi-fi, no radio, no phone data). I did buy a spare 4G data card but it was Three – maybe EE would have worked – I’ll never know unless I come back and try (not necessarily a valid excuse to come back here but we don’t need one, at some point we will be back to Scotland again).
Lunch today was at the Crask Inn – somewhere else in the middle of nowhere (look it up on t’internet and you’ll find out where). This inn doubles up as an Episcopal Church so I thought I would kneel and pray for some better weather but that would surely be seen as rude in the bar. A fire that is kept in all year around, a small dog to greet us, a great chat with the landlady about fishing, life in the highlands, the history of the inn (someone bought it as a hideaway a few years back but were unsuccessful) – although it is in the middle of nowhere it is the only inn on the road for goodness knows how many miles – not a good idea to try and hide when it’s on every road map.

We’re on the road to nowhere………. actually it is the road to The Crask Inn

They are completely off-grid, we started chatting about the wind farm that is being put there (but not overlooked by anyone) the right or wrongs of clearing some of the forestry land and other environmental issues around the ‘flow country’ (see write up on Forsinard – North Coast 500 trip) which is where the inn is located. A great couple of hours talking to all and sundry that came in from all over the country, warm and toasty by the log burner I could have stayed a while longer. Considering it’s location, during those 2 hours we spent in the cosiness about 10 people came and ate, so whilst not jammed to the gunnels it is a welcome stop for many a traveller.

Bonnie Scotland – Day 7

Saturday 25th May
Raining cats & dogs. Wouldn’t that be a thing – imagine walking down the street and a St.Bernard fell on your head! You might just come round after a few minutes then down comes a Persian Blue to whack you on the ear. You’d quickly take cover – which is precisely what we did today. Both of us hate being cooped up for too long and getting a little stir crazy we decided to up sticks and go for a drive to the North Coast. ‘Upping sticks’ – where does that come from? – must be a northern thing. Talk to a caravanner and they’ll swear that the flexibility of having a car overrides the ease of which to ‘u p sticks’ – talk to a motorhomer and they’ll swear how much easier it is to go from place to place without a lot of palaver. I digress (again) – I do have a habit of that when a thought pops into the head.
We decided to drive up to Skerray on a small promontory a few miles off the main North Coast 500 road.
Winding our way down the narrowest of lanes wasn’t too bad as the view was open and had plenty of time to move over for any oncoming traffic. Traffic what traffic? This road goes down to a small harbour, a post office and a telephone box – a few houses and not much else.

Skerray Harbour

Skerray seaweed – me trying to be ‘arty’ with the camera

We did find an interesting open air art gallery – we thought maybe it would be an interesting project for us if we ever stopped traveling!

Our next move?

Ironically we found a CL (Certified Location 5 van site) overlooking the harbour with a single caravan on it. Maybe we’ll visit again and stay for a day or two. The next thing we had to do was find some fuel – we could easily make it back to Altnaharra but needed enough to get out of their (it is a long way from anywhere if your low on fuel).
Putting ‘fuel’ into the satnav it told us there was fuel at Bettyhill – about 8 miles away. Driving along the road we came to a beautiful estuary (Torrisdale Bay) – a little bit of sunshine so we stopped for lunch and were amazed to see about 50 Ringed Plovers and 20+ Golden Plovers (also having their lunch) – got the scope out to see them close up – Beautiful.

View across Torrisdale Bay – lunch with the Plovers

The fuel station at Bettyhill turned out to be 2 pumps outside the local shop – a queue of motorbikes and the postmen were in front of us waiting to be served. The lady serving was also serving in the shop so a little wait was in order – no worries we were not in any hurry. After filling up the fuel and a few groceries (ice cream & beer) we headed into the local car park to catch up with some 4G wi-fi to upload a few days of blogging that wasn’t blogged. That done we headed back to Altnaharra via a different route (I told you all roads lead to Altnaharra), our stir craziness cured for a day or two.

Bonnie Scotland – Days 5 & 6

Thursday 23rd May – European Elections Day (who’d have thought we would even be participating?)
A bit of a washout today – weather was due to close in around midday so a quick game of scrabble to get the brain going and then an hours walk up to a nearby cairn and back in time to stay dry before another session of scrabble in the afternoon. We know how to live it up!
A real treat in the evening as we watched a Black Throated Diver on Loch Naver – only about 30 yards from Hilma moving slowly past – oblivious of our binoculars. A beauty (look it up) and bit of a rarity with only breeding 200 pairs in Northern Scotland.

Friday 24th May
A better start to the day so we decided to go for a longer walk in the morning. I’d spotted a couple of lochans and the larger Loch Gruama Mor on the map a couple of miles away and wanted to suss them out to see if I could throw a line on them to catch a trout on another day. Walking across the moors was like walking on a big sponge – a few deep bogs here and there to be aware of but really easy walking. Upon arriving at Loch Gruama Mor sheepfold we were treated to a view of a few red deer in the distance. The more we looked the more we found and probably saw about 30-40 in two separate herds – a real treat. Birds for the day – lots of Meadow Pipits and a Snipe.

First bit of blue sky we have seen for a while!


During the afternoon the site was like Piccadilly Circus with caravans and motorhomes queuing up to get on the site – our quiet little loch side pitch was now surrounded by another 6 motorhomes – hey ho, that’s the price you pay for booking onto a site. I feel a spot of wild camping coming on when we leave here.

Heading back to Hilma – note the lack of blue sky this time

Bonnie Scotland – Days 3 & 4

Tuesday 21st May
We left Blairgowrie and headed north to Culloden Moor – seeing an RSPB reserve en-route we called in at Insh Marshes and spent a wonderful hour and a half looking through the scope and binoculars. Nothing spectacular – just good old fashioned nature. The highlight was a flock of Curlew (about 20+) put up by an RAF low level training aircraft (prop driven). Provisions at Inverness and off to Culloden Moor to be told there was only 1 pitch left. How different from our previous visit on the North Coast 500 trip which two years and two weeks earlier at the same site their was plenty of elbow room.

Wednesday 22nd May
We left Culloden Moor CC&MH site – before leaving we asked about filling up water in an emergency – definitely not came the reply – apparently brought up at committee (I’ll have you know). Then we went on to talk about wild camping in Scotland – illegal we were told (no it isn’t if you behave yourself) and this person had lived in Scotland for 14 years. Whatever happened to help the neighbour in times of need or distress. Admittedly it was a hypothetical conversation but it goes to show how precious people can be.
Taking my usual Stoic position I put myself in their shoes – what would it be like running a site with 80+ vans and (members only mind you) were turning up to empty their loos or take water on board? It could be a little hectic, especially if the service point was within the bounds of the site. Would you be able to keep track of it all along with all the other normal daytime activity of running a site? Probably not – which is why I assume ‘at committee’ it was deemed not appropriate.
So thinking again about it stoically – is this something that is in my control? No it is not so I should not worry about it, and I do not worry about it – but how nice it would be if someone ‘at committee’ were to propose an idea that the CC& MH club might offer assistance to those in need by having service points outside the boundaries of the pitch areas but within the confines of the club site boundary. How nice and forward thinking that might be – helpful and a thoughtful thing to do.

We’re on the road to nowhere……….


Enough philosophising for now. We are on our way to Altnaharra right in the middle of the North part of Scotland (only 26 miles from the north coast) in the middle of the Flow Country. As usual we took a circumventive route – some of which was on single track roads with passing places. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – a very civilised way of driving as you (or someone coming in the opposite direction) HAS to give way to be able to pass each other – no stalemate stand-off’s here. Arriving at Altnaharra we were greeted by a beautiful site right by Loch Naver, we opted for an off-grid pitch (£10.50) at the quiet end of the site on the Loch shore. Within an hour of being there we were blessed with seeing an Osprey over the other side of the Loch, later on a female Red-Breasted Merganser – this is such a pretty and peaceful site – we are looking forward to the next five days.

Hima – at peace next to Loch Naver – Altnaharra

Hilma – almost alone on the Altnaharra CC&MH site

Bonnie Scotland – Day 2

Monday 20th May
I can’t believe it’s not a ‘work’ day, HURRAH!
Went for a very gentle jog this morning through the woods – nothing too strenuous mind, it’s been a year since I did any serious running so i’m being careful. Today we are off to Blairgowrie – why so many ‘Blairs’ in Scotland? (and I don’t mean an ex labour party leader / prime minister) – well I’ll tell you (save you looking it up like I did – it means plain. So tony Blair was just a ‘plain‘ man. What has that got to do with this trip – absolutely nothing, I just wondered why there were so many Blairs.
Anyway, we wandered off and took the low road and before we knew it we were in Bonnie Scotland – bluebells galore and yes, the rain (but not too much mind you). We went a little astray before lunch but sometimes going astray is good, you find good places to stop, great views and above all a sense that it didn’t matter if we went ‘off-piste’ we will get to where we are going anyway.
A beautiful spot for lunch next to the River Almond (no I’ve never heard of it either) on the A822 between Crieff and Dunkeld. Plenty of birdsong – Cuckoos calling along the valley, Wood Warblers and lo and behold right next to Hilma a pair of Great Tits nesting in a tree hole!

Great Tit nesting

A nice view of the Great Tit’s bottom as it enters the nest hole

Great Tit nesting

Ha – who’s that nosy git looking into my home – away with you – damn sassenach!

And all this for going in a different direction – be different, it can work for you.

Our third trip to Bonnie Scotland

Sunday May 19th, 2019 – Day 1
Today we set off on our third trip to Scotland in Hilma. This time we are taking 4 days to get there. Many people have asked why 4 days, believe me when you are driving a 4 ton 8ft wide and 18ft long vehicle you have to concentrate that little bit more. Motorway lanes suddenly become narrower, you can’t just park where you want (unless your’e in France), ‘B’ roads suddenly take on that country lane feel and everything slows down, which is the way it should be when you are motor-homing. Don’t hurry, you’ll miss things, don’t stress, you’ll get there eventually.
Since our trip to France last year with minimal planning regarding where we were going to stop we have learnt that around 150 – 180 miles in a day is our max, much less when on smaller roads and only that far if we NEED to be somewhere by a certain time. In the UK of course it is different, you can’t just pull in to an ‘aire’ and stop for the night so you do need to plan a little more – so that’s why were taking 4 days to get to Altnaharra – right in the middle of the upper section in Scotland – 26 miles from the North Coast. Whilst on our North Coast 500 trip we kept passing signs to Altnaharra – we thought all roads lead to Altnaharra so we must go and see why they do. There is a Caravan & Motorhome Club site which takes about 24 vans right on the side of Loch Naver – so that is where we are headed, via Englethwaite in Cumbria, Blairgowrie in Perthshire and Culloden Moor near Inverness.
No hurry.