Sunday 22 August 2021

Hey Donald, Where's your Troosers?

Let the Wind Blow high, 
Let the wind blow low 
Through the streets in my kilt, I’ll go,
All the lassies say hello, hey Donald, where’s your troosers?
Apologies but the muse has not struck for the past two weeks. 

It may have something to do with the fact that Madam and myself were due to be sat on a Sardinian beach for ten days, but the poxy Pando did for that. But no matter, contact was made with a man in the north of Scotland who assured us that the vineyards and sea temperature of the region were the equal of anything that Olbia had to offer and would we like to see for ourselves by hiring his camper van.
Flights to the "Gateway to the Highlands" were booked and a gift purchased for the airport security who have routinely removed something from my hand luggage on each occasion I have made their acquaintance. 

Flights were then cancelled and rebooked by our state airline on several occasions in the weeks prior to our departure adding to the confusion of the adventure. 

But after an hour long ride in an aeroplane (our first for nearly two years), the presentation of a plastic pair of school scissors to security by way of a gift and a night in an Inverness hotel, we pitched up to meet Ron and his Moho (Street talk for Motor home). 

Availability had been limited in the time we were given to switch from Sardinia to Escosse. Ron’s Moho could sleep a maximum of five. It was very comfortable for two and very well thought out, but it came in a few feet short of a mobile library. 

Instruction as to its use was kindly given by Ron and his Roz and after thirty minutes we successfully negotiated his drive without real incident and hit the open road. 

Over the Black Isle to Bonar Bridge then pushing up the centre of Scotland to Lairg and the shores of Loch Shin. 

I don’t do the “bucket list” thing. 

If I fancy it I’ll give it a go. 

I remember at a young age wondering what Niagara Falls were really like and why people were compelled to climb into barrels and go down the falls. Two years ago we visited and I am still none the wiser. 

Looking at map books in my formative years I scanned the top of Scotland and wondered why there were so few roads and how come some of those large bodies of water had no vehicular access. 

Pushing on past Lairg to Altneharra we entered what must be one of the remotest places we have ever visited, a vast peat bog with no houses, the road that I (and the map book) had as a “main road” for much of my lif,  was in fact a single track road no bigger than the Bransbury Lane with a few more passing places. 

The fact we were negotiating it in an eight metre long and three metre high Pantechnicon added a certain frisson to the afternoon.
We pitched up on the shores of Loch Naver near Altneharra around tea time and tried to remember all that Ron and Roz had told us. 

The next supermarket was a couple of days away and we’d stocked up with essentials (mostly wine based) plus simple nourishment (mostly cheese based) . 

With both on board our minds cleared and we settled into what was a very comfortable motor home. I’d planned to flick a fly into Loch Naver but nothing much seemed to moving or hatching, even the notorious midges were absent. 

The Highland Clearances had a big impact on the area in the 1800s. We passed several informative boards on our evening amble that highlighted the injustices and misdemeanours of that period.
A leisurely rise and a mid morning departure on up the A836 which seemed to be getting smaller and smaller and higher and higher.
Progressing at speeds reaching close to thirty miles an hour we passed both Ben and Loch Loyal,
on to Loch Slaim
and down to the Kyle of Tongue.
We were booked into a site on the beach in Talmine, sans electricity.
The Moho had batteries and gas that ensured the lights didn’t go out and the wine remained chilled for the twenty four hours we were there.
We’d entered the Kyle of Tongue the previous day in what I believe is termed locally as a “Dreach”
we departed in bright sunshine and a view of mountains that had remained hidden the previous day. 

Over the Naver, Borgie, Halladale and Thruso and several other rivers that screamed salmon and are beyond my budget when it comes to bothering brer Salar. 

We paused for a picnic lunch looking out to the Orkneys with “Old Stogies” to follow. Men of means by no means, we were indeed Kings of the Road.
Through Thurso and on to Dunnet Bay and a view of Dunnet Head which contentiously lays claim to be the northernmost point in Scotland.
I had these little wadery types as Dunlin.  

There were other waders about, but these critters were the most entertaining. Look closely and you will note that the foremost Dunlin has only one leg.
While the bipedal Dunlin scuttle about the foreshore, the monoped bounced about on his/her single limb. He/she seemed fat enough and when they all took flight the negative impact of being one down in the leg department was neutralised. 

Heading further East in the morning, the Orkneys were occasionally absent as the Dreach returned. Briefly the clouds parted,
here’s the ferry terminal for the Orkneys, that’s them in the distance.

With the Dreach departed, the Isle of Stroma hove into view.
Inhabited until the 1960s, the abandoned crofts, church, cemetery and phone box could clearly be seen. The waters around Stroma are notoriously treacherous with whirlpools, tidal races and Sprites. Storms battering the north coast often sent seawater right across the island and the water supply to the locals varied in its salinity. Mostly crofters, the Stromanites (as they will now be known) also traded goods with the mainland. When a lighthouse was proposed to protect shipping and reduce wrecks, many Stromanites objected as, bounty washed up on the beach was a useful source. 

Popped into John O’Groats which was everything we anticipated and a bit of a circus.
We’ve touched the breast of Juliet in Verona and leaned into the tower of Pisa to have our photo taken (it’s on here somewhere) John O’Groats has a similar feel, with a plethora of gift shops peddling Tam O’Shanter hats with integral red hair and Loch Ness Monster Figurines. 

Heading south
we wandered into Wick to camp on the banks of the river where there were many Oyster Catchers.
I knew of Wick from a week fishing the bottom bits of the Deveron in my youth. 

For many years the Deveron was the furthest I had ventured into the Arctic Circle but each evening of our staynwe could see the lights of Wick twinkling in the distance, even further north than we were and what my fourteen year old self considered to be just short of the North Pole. 

Well Wick is Wick. It’s a fishing fleet town, a bit scruffy but host to a very good French restaurant where we ate that evening. 

On our penultimate day we covered the most miles. Just under a hundred in all. 

Past many Clan seats, this one may have something to do with Isla Sinclair, We don't know, nobody answered our knock on the door to answer our enquiries.
This is the highest point on the A99. There is a short section that is closed off when the snow falls, cutting off a corner of Scotland by road.
Dunrobin castle hove into view and we had almost completed the circle.
Lunch was taken by the bridge over the mouth of Dornach Firth. It features regularly on the traffic news and as we nibbled our dainties it quickly became clear why as our three metre high and eight metre long Moho wobbled in high wind. 

We spent our last night on the Black Isle. Fortrose to be precise. As the evening tide turned Bottlenose Dolphins performed along with some fairly sluggish seals.
Back to Ron and Roz the next morning and a flight back down to Heathrow. A tremendous trip that we both needed, if only to get moving again. 

We’ve both tested for the pox since our return and all came back negative. 

Oh yes, throughout our tour of one of the more remote corners of Europe we experienced a 4G mobile signal throughout and excellent internet connectivity. My parents who kindly held the fort at home, a few miles from what some would have as the greatest and most progressive city on earth had no internet throughout their stay. 

 Memo to “Our Great Leader”: You might want to revisit that “levelling up” thing that you promoted over the last few years in order to get something done.

Normal service will soon be resumed, a brief break has restored no end of vim, with vigour forecast sometime in the next few weeks.