Thursday, 17 August 2017

Lochs, beinns, and heading south

Most campsites in the highlands seem to be filled with cheap hired motorhomes and rows of gleaming plastic caravans, but Glenbrittle was noticeably different. Whilst we were there we saw a classic Unimog camper, a large and impressive overland camper build on a Steyr truck, and a couple of vintage land-rovers. I’m not sure what it is that puts off many of the traditional campers, but Glenbrittle has got everything we want from a campsite in abundance. The site is quiet and relaxed, there are no formal pitches or ugly patches of hardstanding, everywhere on the campsite is within 50m of the beach, and the views in all directions are outstanding. The view from the windscreen looked out onto Loch Brittle, with the isle of Rum visible in the distance, and the view from the bedroom and kitchen looked straight out onto the Black Cuillin.

Glenbrittle campsite, Skye

View from motorhome window at Glenbrittle campsite, Skye

We had planned to spend the following day climbing into the iconic Black Cuillin mountains. The rather foreboding mountains provide epic views over Skye and out to sea in good weather, but unfortunately good weather was in short supply whilst we were there, and everything above about 300 meters remained permanently in cloud whilst we were staying at Glenbrittle. There are many people for whom the sense of achievement when walking in the mountains is in reaching summit, but for me the enjoyment is in the views. I would get very little satisfaction from an experience which could be replicated by leaving a smoke machine on overnight in your living room, and doing a 900m climb on a stairmaster in the morning. Instead we walked south east along the coast to Rubha an Dùnain headland.

Boris the golden retriever looking out of Loch Brittle

The walk was gentle and took us to a rocky peninsula, with great views of several of the nearby islands including Rum and Canna. There is evidence all over the headland of ancient habitation, in a relatively small area there is a Viking canal linking a small loch to the sea, and iron age dun (fortification wall), the remains of a 19th century Clan McLeod village, and even Neolithic cairns. Boris was more interested in chasing sheep than looking for pre-historic remains, but I think he was most happy about doing a walk with very little altitude change.
We returned to the campsite as the heavens opened again, and we spent the rest of the day enjoying the views from the shelter of Jim.

The following day we got up early to leave for a drive to the Quiraing on the other side of Skye. Our experience driving past the Fairy Pools on the way to Glenbrittle campsite, had taught us that the car parks near popular attractions in Skye would be likely to get very busy during the day. In a small car there is normally a good chance that you can tuck yourself off the road somewhere, or wait on the verge for a free space, but in Jim this would be harder, and it is likely that a space vacated by a small car would be insufficient in which to park a big truck. To avoid parking chaos, we left early and enjoyed the drive north in almost complete solitude. The last stretch from Uig to the Quiraing involves a very tight hairpin (which we saw a coach requiring a 3-point turn to navigate), and a single track road which is short on passing places. I was glad to have done this drive before the 17 plate hire cars hit the roads en masse.

Saturday, 12 August 2017

Narrow roads and lots of rain

Well it’s been more than two weeks since my last post, and our short trip is now over. Scotland is blessed with many things, but strong mobile data signal is not one of them, and consequently access to Blogger would have required lengthy detours too places we had no intention of going.

When I last posted we were leaving Dufton and heading for the border. The fells of the Lake District fell away as we headed north, but we were barely into Scotland before the terrain started getting more interesting. To break up our journey to Loch Lomond, we headed for the Grey Mare’s Tail waterfall on the edge of Dumfries and Galloway, east of Moffat.

The A708 has a sign claiming its unsuitability for HGV’s, but in a move that would be repeated almost daily for the next 2 weeks, we ignored the advice and proceeded onwards. The road was a gentle introduction to Scottish roads, twisting and undulating with the terrain, as if somebody had unravelled a roll of tarmac on the ground. Whilst the road proclaimed to have a lane in each direction, the lanes were too narrow to accommodate a truck, and on the occasions that we met a large vehicle coming the opposite way, we had to put a wheel on the verge to allow each other to pass. Most of the time, other drivers gave way to Jim, but even Jim looks small when faced with a laden logging truck, and there were a few occasions where I did not have the upper hand.

We arrived at the waterfalls to be met with drizzling rain, something that we would have to get used to whilst in Scotland. Nevertheless we enjoyed the short but steep hike up the valley, and ate lunch in far more pleasant surroundings than we would have found on the M74.

After leaving Grey Mare’s Tail, we headed north, and after navigating Glasgow (a city not endowed with an effective ring road or bypass) we drove to Balmaha, and along the east shore of Loch Lomond to a campsite that we had booked. Loch Lomond is easily accessible for tourists flying into Glasgow, and as such has more visitors than many areas much more beautiful but more remote. To prevent chaos, camping around Loch Lomond is controlled and restricted in a way that it is not elsewhere in Scotland, and so to ensure that we could park in peace near the water’s edge, we chose to book a places at the Cashel campsite. The campsite was busy, but there is plenty of space between pitches, and you get fantastic views of the loch from almost anywhere on the site.

I had aspirations to rent a boat the following day, and visit some of the Loch’s islands, but the weather had other plans, and the rain was too heavy, and the showers too frequent to make such an endeavour enjoyable. Instead we took a short walk along a section of the West Highland Way, and smugly enjoyed returning to the warmth and dry of Jim, whilst the backpacked hikers doing the full length of the route trudged onwards.