Tag: Handa Island

North Coast 500 – in conclusion

I guess the big question is not necessarily “Did we enjoy it” (I think the blog does an effective job of proving that), the question we should be asking is “Would we do it again?”.
The answer is an affirmative “Yes”.
We may not follow exactly the same route, we may pass through some places that we stopped at this time and see what other adventures await us. The great thing that Janette and I have taken from this trip is the utter beauty that lies within our reach. OK – it may be a long haul up there for those that like to motorhome a little closer but it is worth the effort – and one does have to say it is an effort. The driving can be a little ‘tight’ at times, single track roads with passing places – but you know what – those actually create an element of respect with the majority of drivers we came across. Pull in (because you and everybody else has no choice) and a wave and a smile was the ‘norm’. Perhaps we can learn something from this, courtesy on the roads is something that is sadly lacking – I think a mandatory 2 days driving on Scottish single track roads should form part of the driving test!
The sense of freedom we experienced when wild camping was also something that surprised us both – we definitely want to experience more of that. Being able to pull up late afternoon loch side with a stunning view, wake up in the morning with no cars, nobody, just the wildlife will be something very simple that we take away from this trip.

A room with a view – what price? (actually it was free)

Favourite spots?

In the words of Arnie “We’ll be back”.

North Coast 500 tour – Days 14-16

18th May (day 14)
I’m writing this in the Kinlochewe Hotel (great meals) 3 days later as there has been no internet to speak of on the west coast. Speed is slow as everyone in the hotel is probably using the same free (secure) wi-fi so I’ll upload most of the photos at a later date.
Resuming our journey we left Tarbet early at 8:30am (early for us) by which time 2 vehicles were already parking up for the first boat to Handa Island. Now we truly are on the West side of Scotland – the views just keep flowing into the eyes and on into the memory. The problem is the memory banks just can’t keep up, our brains need some faster processors and more RAM – if only!
We eventually drove past our original wild camp destination and we were not disappointed that we had stayed in Tarbet. A little en-route side step into Lochinver found us spending money at the Scottish Stoneware Pottery. A rather incongruous site greeted us, a car covered in pottery mosaic with a wild (more like tame) deer scoffing on the local foliage.

Not sure this would fit in Hilma

Getting to Lochinver was an interesting experience – the road via Drumbeg was narrow, nothing new there, but this road was very narrow and very steep, in places marked as 25%. Hilma handled them hills like a good ‘un, her clutch (not crutch) smelt a bit hot when we arrived at Drumbeg for the obligatory ice cream stop. After our ice cream my nerves had been restored to something like normal and off we shot for some more visual indigestion.
From Lochinver returning to the main route the road runs alongside Loch Assynt and it feels like one is in a truly wild place (‘feels like’ is the wrong description – you ARE in a truly wild place) – a huge glen carved out from the ice age – truly humbling.
Having been on the road (some of which was quite testing) for a few hours now it was time to find our next wild camp spot – yes folks – we are getting the bug for loneliness (sad old geysers that we are). We thought we liked small CL site (5 vans max), actually we still do but wild camping is something new to us, very different, the solitude and peace steeps into your pores and we are loving it. Not sure how many places in England you can do this with such ease. The Coigach peninsula looked inviting so we went off piste, turned at Drumrunie, drove 3 miles and found a loch side stop. (N58.01 324, W.5.10 158) looking up at Stac Pollaidh 2 miles away – all alone again, happy we were.

Our parking spot

Scotland or Hawaii?

The road actually turned out to be busy, when I say busy I don’t mean London busy I mean Scotland single track road busy. It is the only road on and off the peninsula but all quietened down by the evening and the last vehicle passed by about 9:00pm.
Time here has a different feeling, how can time have a ‘feeling’? The only way to describe it is by linking it to the daylight – 9:00pm here is like 7:00pm at home – really, when we drop the bed down at 10:30 – 11:00pm you could still read a book outside.

19th May (day 15)
We only travelled 10 miles today! Continuing along the road to Altandhu we passed 4 lochs – plenty of wild camping spots along this road (at least 8 but I reckon we had the best last night – see photos) which eventually reaches a T junction at Enard Bay. Turn left or right and it brings you back in a large loop – we turned right and found ourselves a few minutes later looking out at the Summer Isles. We put our feet down for the night at a campsite (no bookings) – excellent facilities but a tad busy. The reason it was so busy would become obvious to us tomorrow. This peninsula is definitely somewhere we will re-visit at a future date.
Diverting from the tour for a minute or two – the reason some of these days are all grouped on one blog page is the good old t’internet or lack thereof on the west coast is hampering daily uploads. To date the Mi-Fi unit installed last month has done a great job and to be honest still is. The poor little fella can’t help it if the rest of the world decides the west coast of Scotland doesn’t need the coverage – short sighted if you ask me. These are exactly the kind of remote communities that would benefit from 3G and 4G coverage more than other places. Other places being cities and large towns that already benefit from cable broadband. I’m currently using a three.co.uk SIM card – 12mths or 12GB and so far over the 3 week period I’ve used 2.2GB, I estimate by the end of the tour we might have reached 3GB usage max. I also have an EE SIM card that I have not tried yet – that has 200MB free and then you top up. This is all new to me so I’m on a learning curve – some of you old pro’s of motorhome touring may well have the answer to the west coast issue. I’m not on BT hotspots or anything like that and I don’t fancy finding every little café just to log on – we have better things to do with our time (like write this blog in the evening and wait to upload when we can), it is too easy to let the modern day agenda of instant communications dictate our pace of life which I refuse to give in to whilst enjoying this wonderfully peaceful environment and slower paced life in which we are traveling.

20th May (day 16)
The weather yesterday evening took a turn for the worse raining cats and dogs, mice, toads and a plague of frogs. Packing up in the morning gloom and drizzle (the frogs had stopped), filling Hilma’s water tank we noticed many of the people on the site had already left. We drove around the loop to get back to the main NC500 route and within 5 minutes we came across Polbain Regatta on the beach, the reason for the packed campsite and mass exodus. Parking Hilma we wandered down to find out ‘the crack’. Villages from all over the west and east coast have their own boat called a ‘Skiff’. Origination of these boats came surprisingly not from the fishing community but from miners. Because they worked underground they thought up a way of getting out in the fresh air and exercising (pre-telly of course), this then turned into friendly local competitions between the boats.

Polbain Regatta race

Getting ready to race

In full flow

Nowadays it is a way of binding a community together in a common interest, each village wishing to take part has the same boat ‘kit’. They build it together, train together (different age and gender groups) and compete against other villages in different regatta’s around the North of Scotland.

Lily Rose ‘Skiff’

Two of the competing villages Skiffs

A real sense of community spirit was evident with barbecued salmon, sandwiches, cakes, teas & coffee all on offer with the proceeds going back into the communities. We even met a girl we had met working at the Clynelish Distillery on the east coast earlier on the tour, she was rowing for Helmsdale. The big talking point and bone of contention in the world of Skiff racing is the oars. Although the boats are all made to the same specifications the oar design is a free for all. The powers that be (whomever they are) are talking about standardising the oars as well! Sacrilege apparently! One woman said that the communities talk endlessly about the oars and went on to say “if they take that away from us we’ll have nothing to gossip about!”

Skiff oars make for many nights entertainment – apparently

4 rowers and a cox make up the crew, straight line course, first past the post is the winner, simple (try saying that to a cox!). About 16 races take place over the day with about 6-8 boats in each race depending age & gender category etc.

A Polbain border – memories of Raggs

Bye, Bye Polbain Regatta

Eventually dragged ourselves away despite being invited to the ‘hooly’ afterwards in the village hall – if we had done that we would never have finished the tour for sure! Off we pop towards our next wild camp somewhere near Aultbea or Drumchork on Loch Ewe (we weren’t sure at this stage) – we have a couple of nights later booked at a CC site so want to make the most of finding another good wild spot. We stopped at Ullapool and what a disappointment, we had lunch in Tesco car park and quickly moved on eventually arriving at Aultbea. We did find a lovely spot next to Loch Ewe but there was a sign saying no overnight parking. Frankly one has to respect such a sign when there is so much free parking around. We drove down to Mellon Charles back out of Aultbea, wound up the tour route to a fantastic high viewpoint overlooking Loch Ewe (57°49.525’N, 5°34.615’W).
Plenty of information boards around this area pointing to the fact that Loch Ewe was used during WWII to shelter the North Atlantic Russian Convoys, even today just below where we parked there is a NATO refuelling station (I’ll probably get arrested now for putting that on the blog!), if you don’t hear anything for 10 years I’m in the brig!
Contrasting weather, went to bed in a downpour, woke up to glorious sunshine (see pics).

Loch Ewe wild camp in the evening


….. and morning bliss!

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North Coast 500 tour – Days 11-13

15th & 16th May
We left Rispond having first taken our cups of coffee down to the beach. We decided it would be a good idea to have a paddle, leaving our shoes, socks and empty coffee cups by the steps off we tiptoed to dip our toes in the North Atlantic. We were right, bloody cold, when our feet eventually came out they were a very pale white, verging on blue.
Back on the road we briefly stopped at Durness for provisions and fuel (24hr pumps with card payment system). Our next destination was a small CL site (Caravan Club – Certified Location – 5 vans only) at Kinlochbervie, no advanced booking, just turn up. The number of motorhomes and campers we were passing we began to wonder just how many other people were on ‘the tour’ like us. The Scottish Tourist Board have done a great job of marketing the NC 500, one wonders if there will eventually be an ‘exhaustion point’ – just too many people for the existing facilities (especially those wild camping). It seems that there does need to be more facilities for getting rid of black water, especially as wild camping in Scotland is so easy (and beautiful). Having said that at Kinlochbervie there are 5 spaces on the Old Harbour with hook up and waste disposal for chemical toilets – cost – £15, pay at the local Spar and the money goes back into local community projects. Further down the road at Oldshoremore there were 2 motorhomes parked in a decent size car park (with WC).

Sunset at Kinlochbervie

Today (16th May) we had to move to a more sheltered spot on the site (labelled as ‘Storm Refuge’ by the owner) as 42mph winds were forecast – and boy did it blow.
Question: At what point does a Hymer B544 tip over in strong winds?
Answer: I did not want to find out!

Before all the moving we did manage a cycle down to Oldshoremore Bay – just one more beautiful golden beach. Sandwood Bay is a recommended walk a little further down the road (4 miles from its car park). We would have liked to do that but we were beaten by the weather, on the way back we were almost blown off our bikes so had to walk some of the way pushing them and looking like wimps (chapeau to all the Tour de France riders).
Decided to splash out a bit and go out for a meal at the Old School House, 2 miles down the road at Inshegra. They could just squeeze us in at 6:30pm as they had a party of 17 in, lucky us, the food was gorgeous (Langoustines for Janette and Sole Veronique for me).

Dusk at Kinlochbervie Harbour

17th May
Leaving Kinlochbervie we hoped to make it to Handa Island (Scottish Wildlife Trust) and can only get there by passenger ferry (small rib that takes 12 people max). Arriving at about 11:30am we were astounded by the amount of cars their. We couldn’t park and were eventually guided to park outside someone’s house. If you are going to visit the first boat is 9:00am and last boat out is 2:00pm (weather dependant) and last boat back 5:00pm. If you are into nature loving in any way at all the £12.50 return fare is well worth it. We saw Great Skua’s, Puffins, Terns, an Arctic Skua and many more species.

Handa Island – Razorbills on the cliffs

Handa Island Fulmar – taking it easy

Me!

It takes a good 3 hours to walk around so allow plenty of time. Fantastic day out (we caught the last boat back!). As it was now 5:15pm the thought off dragging ourselves another couple of hours (the roads are slow here) to an intended wild camp spot did not seem like fun (we were knackered) we decided to stay here. We moved Hilma down to the harbour vowing to leave early next morning before getting blocked in! There is a lovely restaurant in the harbour www.shorehousetarbet.co.uk – we had a couple of drinks and sitting on the veranda with the sun sinking behind Handa Island life suddenly became a little reflective – but beer does that to you sometimes. The owner (Julian) has been there since his mother started the restaurant and he and his wife Jackie eventually took over. Julian catches all the fish for the restaurant so it couldn’t get much fresher. We later offered Julian a glass of wine from our ‘Hilma Cellar’ as he was so helpful in initially directing us where to park. His philosophy is if he loves it so much then why shouldn’t he help other people to enjoy the same. All that is asked is that you donate some money to the RNLI – absolutely!
At 9:30pm I decide to go and try and catch a trout in the small Loch Dubh behind the harbour. No initial luck – I then moved location and changed my fly to a ‘Claret Bumble’ (don’t ask) and within a couple of casts I had one on. A beautiful little wild brown trout, red and dark brown spots, I released it to continue his (or her) journey in life – what a treat. Janette disappointed as I didn’t bring one back for breakfast.
To finish off the night, 2 pairs of Greylag Geese and eight goslings waddled down to the sea.
Don’t miss Tarbet if you’re on the NC 500.

Skylark on Handa Island

Great Skua showing off his landing skills

Puffins – how do they manage to cling on? Still, if they fell off all they have to do is flap!

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