Wednesday 17 July 2024

Caerlaverock Aire, Dumfries and Galloway

Tuesday 16 July 2024

We'd planned to stop at a pub in the Yorkshire Dales tonight to break the journey. However, on arrival (despite have recce'd it on Google Street View) it was clear the dog-leg entrance to the car park was far too narrow for Nido, so we had no option but to move on.  We pulled into a parking area and I had a look for another pub stop, but none took our fancy, so we decided to hit the road and drive the three hours to home.

We set off from Aberdour yesterday morning for a two hour drive to Caerlaverock, Dumfries & Galloway on what's described as a campsite, but is actually more like an aire, with an open parking area surrounded by trees, with servicing facilities.  It's run by the local community and they ask for a £10 donation, either an online payment or by cash (envelope provided) in the honesty box; I did the latter.  We've stayed here before as it's a good stop when either arriving in or departing from Scotland as it's only a short drive from the border.  It was a very warm and sunny day so we had lunch sat outside before taking a walk along the edge of the reed beds and salt marsh for about four miles.  I warmed up a pork and bean stew we'd brought from the freezer at home and cooked some roast potatoes in the omnia oven. By bed time there were eight vans here, including five Europeans and one of the huge overlander all-terrain lorry-type motorhomes.  One British family were in a 5m Vauxhall van with three very young children (a 3 year old and twins aged 19 moths) and two large dogs!  They had a large double roof tent but it must have still been very cosy.  Dad sat with the three children on the picnic bench by us, feeding them, as Mum sorted out the van. They must be exhausted!

Caerlaverock National Nature Reserve

This morning after breakfast we walked to Caerlaverock Castle, through the forest next to the aire. It's a proper looking castle, albeit in ruins, with towers and a water-filled moat. We just had a walk along the grassy mound rather than pay to enter the castle ruins; we had Salty and could see other dogs inside, so he would be much happier outside!  There were ominously dark clouds surrounding us and as we walked back through the forest it started to rain, turning torrential just as we reached the open are of the aire.  In the van we changed out of wet clothes and sat it out until the rain eased, before leaving to head south.

Those clouds look a bit ominous....

...and they're getting closer

That was a dry aire parking area!

We now have a few weeks to prepare the van ready for our trip to France next month.  We haven't decided how long we'll be away. We'll book a return crossing once we've we're ready but I suspect it'll be the very of September or first week of October.  The current rough plan is to head for Alsace/Lorraine, down into the Jura and then across into Burgundy before heading back up to Calais.  But much will depend on the weather.  So far - like most of Europe - it's not been a great summer.  So we'll look for some pleasant sunshine but not too hot...we don't like it too hot!  

Since we got home we've emptied the van to give it a good clean and give Paul from CMS a clear run to complete a Gas Safety Check on Friday.  I fixed the broken Remis blind with the replacement hinge waiting for us at home.  I've also checked the toilet flush; I think the Control Panel is kaput (it must be at least15 years old) so have ordered another.  

We enjoyed our trip to the Cairngorms, despite the changeable weather.  I think our next trip north of the border will be to the west and perhaps the Outer Hebrides.  That'll give me something to research on the dark winter nights to come. 

Sunday 14 July 2024

Wild swimming in the Cairngorms and a view of the Firth of Forth

Sunday 14 July 2024

Nido's parked up at Silver Sands in Aberdour, between Dalgety Bay and Burntisland, on the northern coastline of the Firth of Forth.  There's about a dozen dedicated motorhome parking spaces and we can stay overnight for a voluntary donation.  There's no facilities apart from bins, but we have a sea view, the sandy beach is lovely and across the Forth we can see Edinburgh.  I spent about 15 months living just a few miles from here  - in Rosyth - when I was serving in the Royal Navy but never really had the time or opportunity to explore the area.  But I've sailed in and out of the Firth of Forth more times than I can remember. It's school holidays here and lots of families have been enjoying some fun beach time.  It's a bit grey and windy now though, so it's pretty quiet.

Yesterday I woke early so popped out to service the van before taking Salty for his morning constitutional.  There were five vans parked up overnight, but luckily no ravers or rabble rousers, so we'd all enjoyed a quiet night.  Last night as I put the van to bed, the hinge for the Remis blind on the driver's window snapped.  A quick Google and a couple of YouTube videos later and I learned that: a. this is a common fault (that Remis seem to be ignoring!) and b. replacing the hinge is a bugger of a job because it's really difficult to remove the broken part that slots into one of the arms. I found an English chap on eBay who has no doubt spent hours swearing whilst trying to remove a similar broken hinge on his Remis blind (something I'll be doing next week!), so is now selling the hinges, perhaps 3D printed.  I've ordered a pair and hope the DIY gods are looking down favourably on me when I try to fix it.  That's after I've tried to fix the forever-flushing loo first!

We stopped in Ballater to top up with groceries.  We visited last year and it's looking a little run down since then.  Don't get me wrong, it's still an upmarket place that thrives on its proximity and links to Balmoral Castle and the Royal Family and has multiple new Range Rovers parked up, but the bakery had closed down (lack of staff according to the sign in the window) and even the New Shanghai chinese takeaway next door had lost it's Royal Warrant!  We drove back past Balmoral and onwards, through the small village of Braemar and down a narrow, winding road that followed the River Dee for 5 miles, before crossing the river and doubling back on itself, then carrying on for another 5 miles to the Linn of Quoich, which was our overnight stop.  We stayed here last year and liked the peace, quiet and walks so much.  It costs £5 per day to park - £10 to overnight.  The pay machine takes cash or cards.  If you're a NT Scotland member it's free. Once parked up I promptly got my bike off the rack, changed and cycled the 10 miles back to Braemar!  My plan was to grab a coffee in the village but the one and only tearoom was also a restaurant and looked very posh as I stuck my nose to the window - so definitely not for me.  I ended up with a Costa coffee from the local shop which was dreadful.  Only as I walked with my bike down to find a bench did I notice that the local fish and chip shop had a full-blown Italian coffee machine - drat!

I retraced my route back to the van.  With everything put away and changed, we headed off on what was planned to be a circular walk along the Linn.  It was everything we remembered, with ancient Caledonian pines and water gushing through very narrow gorges and tumbling across waterfalls, with the odd quieter area that would be ideal for a wild swim....if this summer wasn't more like late Autumn!  We managed to tackle a good section of the waterside path but it looked like a recent landslide of rocks had taken out the path and there was no alternative but to reverse our route.  By the time we returned all the day trippers had left and we had the place to ourselves; the silence is deafening.  Dinner cooked and eaten, cup of tea and shortbread consumed (note to self - add more shortbread to the shopping list), the rest of the evening was spent reading or staring out at the forest and mountains, the latter capped by slow moving low clouds.

View of Nido from across the valley

This morning we woke to hot sunshine - hallelujah!  Kettle on, I took Salty for his morning walk and Cathy made breakfast which we ate sat outside, only the second time we've been able to do so this trip.  But the beauty of Scotland doesn't rely on blue skies and sunshine; in fact it's enhanced by the clouds and watching the rain race in then quickly pass over.  After our walk last night, I suggested we return for that wild swim.  We quickly changed, packed a rucksack with towels and walked back to one of the spots we found last night.  The sun was shining on the smooth, flat rocks - a perfect place to change and dry off later.  The first steps were very cold but we took the plunge and were soon whooping with joy in the oxygenated, green-tinted but clear water.  It was a fantastic swim; we felt ALIVE!  These moments have to be grabbed, enjoyed and banked for the future.  We sat on the rocks awhile to dry off and enjoy the warm sunshine before changing and walking back to the van. We'll certainly be looking out for further wild swimming spots.  Back at the van we had a hot cup of tea, packed up and hit the road.

Linn of Quoich

Our swimming spot!

A quick stop at Tesco in Blairgowrie to refuel before carrying on south to our current stopover. Supper tonight was vegetables roasted in the Omnia, with boiled basmati rice.  We wrapped up for our evening walk as the wind coming off the Forth was chilly. After a walk up to the Ha Lighthouse, we had a quick wander on the beach before returning to a warm van for Cava and snacks and some Sunday night YouTube catch up.  We have that EU vibe again, with half the vans parked up around us from Germany and the Netherlands.  It's only five weeks until we cross over to France for a few weeks; I have a few repairs to do on the van before then!

Tonight's park up in Aberdour

Edinburgh across the Firth of Forth

Cava, snacks and YouTube!

Friday 12 July 2024

Pictish Stones and Royal Cairns

Friday 12 July 2024

Nido's parked up at the Muir of Dinnet National Nature Reserve, on the Burn 'o Vat car park.  We stayed here last year and decided to return.  It's quiet, surrounded by trees and just over the road from Loch Kinord.  The parking spaces are a bit tight and there are - for some reason -  large boulders placed at the side of the spaces which, if the car park's busy tomorrow morning when we leave, could provide me with some interesting manoeuvring to get out.  This is a great little spot too as it has fresh water and a chemical toilet dump for motorhomes, situated outside the toilets, which stay open 24/7.  It's another excellent 'free but we hope you'll make a donation' provided by NatureScot and I was very happy to do so; there's a QR code on the noticeboard of the visitor centre to make a card donation, or cash donations can also be made.  The car park gets its name from the amazing bowl-shaped geological feature created by glacial melt at the end of the last Ice Age, which is a few minutes walk from the car park.  There's a narrow entrance-way which requires a clamber over rocks and crossing a stream,  which leads to a natural amphitheatre  It feels a bit like an Indiana Jones moment as you pass through, with giant moss covered boulders, cliffs dripping with ferns and a waterfall at the end.  It's definitely worth a visit if you're in the area.

There was no rain yesterday, but a cold wind had us walking in several layers.  We left Cullen heading for walk along the Speyside Way starting in Cragganmore.  The route we took was along the disused railway line, starting at the old train station (now a private house).  We enjoyed a peaceful walk for half an hour or so before retracing our steps.  On the way to our stopover I saw the sign for Inveravon Church and the Pictish Stones, so took the narrow single lane track down to a small parking area. The Picts were native inhabitants of much of what is now called Scotland in the 1st millennium AD.  The stones were created around the 6th century onwards. Most of the symbols on the stones are abstract, based on geometric shapes like the circle, crescent and rectangle.  Some symbols, such as the mirror and comb are easily identified.  Others are of animals including the eagle, salmon or snake.  The stones are stood within the porch of the church and, unlike many such artefacts, you can get right up and touch them.

Speyside Way - photobomber at the bottom!

Retracing our route back to the main road, we later passed the Walkers Shortbread HQ and factory - a well known Scottish biscuit - just outside Charlestown.  In Charlestown High Street there was one of the original Joseph Walker shops, so I pulled in to buy some cake and biscuits...well it's got to be done!

Our stopover for the night was in the car park of the Tomintoul Bowling Club.  They've set it up as a campsite with 8 pitches, all with electric if you want it.  Although you can just turn up, I actually called them yesterday and booked a pitch, which was just as well because all were taken; once we'd arrived a few vans turned up but had to leave as there was no spaces available.  They have toilets open 24/7 and fresh water and bins but no toilet cassette dump.  Payment is cash stuffed in an envelope and posted into an honesty box.  Another great community initiative which must bring in some decent income.  After lunch we took a walk around the village.  It's not huge and set out in a grid system with streets running parallel and at right angles to each other, so it was easy to wander around.  It's only a small place so it didn't take long.  We bought an ice cream and sat on a bench watching the world go by....just like and old couple in their 60s!  I cooked a curry and we sat and watched some YouTube before turning in for the night. 

Tomintoul bowling club campsite

We planned an early start this morning to ensure we could get a decent parking spot at the Balmoral car park.  We had a quick cup of tea then prepared to the van to leave.  But we had a strange fault on the toilet.  The Thetford toilet was secondhand when it was installed 10 years ago (long story, best forgotten), so it's no surprise it's now feeling its age a bit.  It has an electronic flush system, with the flush water provided by a separate cistern which has a filling point outside the van (it came off a caravan - long story, best forgotten).  This morning, when pressed, the flush continued to - well - flush even after the button had been released.  The quickest way to stop it was to switch off the water pump on the van's control panel, which provides the power to the toilet flush.  However, we need this on to use the water taps.  After a bit of playing around I couldn't get it to stop, so simply removed the toilet's fuse, which is situated under the cistern just behind the toilet holding tank - accessed from the external toilet cassette hatch.  A bit of Googling suggests I made need to replace the control panel - thankfully it's nowhere near as expensive as the two control panels recently replaced on our Thetford fridge.  Thetford as a company are not easy to deal with and almost impossible to contact to discuss fault-finding.  I think they know it's quite a small marketplace - them and Dometic - so they can charge what they like for their products and have no need to provide any form of customer service...rant over!  Luckily we have a husband and wife company close to home who provide an excellent service in mobile motorhome repairs.  With the toilet, however, I'm going to have a go at fixing it myself when we get home...what could go wrong!

Toilet flush power isolated (we have a spray bottle as an alternative), we drove the 40 minutes to the Balmoral car park.  It's £5 to park for the day and motorhomes can stop overnight for £10.  There's nothing there though - well apart from a whacking great castle - and it's next to a busy road, so it's not on our list of places to stop over.   The journey was an interesting one, across the featureless high grouse moors between Tomintoul and Cockbridge.   These two places often feature in the winter on the traffic news, when the snow gates between the two have to be closed.

On arrival we had breakfast and Cathy made our picnic lunch before we started a 6 mile walk around the adjacent forest, following a route taking in all 8 of the Cairns dedicated to the family of Queen Victoria.  We walked with a couple of groups at the start, making our way up the steep forest path, passing one small cairn before reaching the summit at the impressive pyramid Aire dedicated to Queen Victoria's late husband - Prince Albert.  Once passed there we left our fellow walkers behind; I suspect most people walk to this point then return to their cars.  The walk meandered up and down paths through the pine and birch forest and we stopped off at various points to walk around the Cairns and take in the impressive views from some of them. We had our lunch sat on rocks with a magnificent view of the distant mountains.  

Back at the van it was a 15 minute drive to our current stopover.  Hot showers were enjoyed (I'll never get over the novelty of having a shower in a car park!) and I cooked a simple meal of quesadillas (using up some wraps, ham, cheese and red onion) with a salad.  It's now very quiet here as the day trippers have left and only three vans are parked up.  I'm quite surprised more aren't here as it's a lovely place to overnight.   We've seen a lot of French, German and Czech Republic motorhomes in the past few days; either the Scottish Tourist Board are marketing the country throughout the EU or our fellow Europeans are glad to come somewhere in the UK that looks and feels like the EU and where motorhomes are welcomed, not shunned.  We've had a cup of tea and our heads are tiredly nodding after a very enjoyable walk.  Salty has already turned in for the night!

Prince Albert Cairn - photobombed by Salty

King of the Castle

Lunch stop view

Balmoral Castle in the middle 

Wednesday 10 July 2024

A day of sunshine and a day of rain

Wednesday 10 July 2024

Nido's parked up at the aire at Cullen Harbour on the Moray coast.  It's been a day of constant heavy rain, but we're on a hardstanding pitch overlooking the sea, we have food and plenty of books to read.  

We woke yesterday at the Nethy Bridge THS to blue skies and hot sunshine - bliss!  I took Salty for a walk in the forest, breakfasted then readied myself for a bike ride.  I took the road out of the village towards Loch Garten, along very quiet roads through the forest, with well designed, individual houses with lovely gardens.  I've said it before but this part of Scotland could easily be taken for rural France.  At the Loch I took a route which looped back into Nethy Bridge, before heading out again, past the ruins of Roy Castle.  I was in no rush; these days I'm happy to just pootle along on my bike, enjoying the sights and sounds of a slow journey. After a few hundred metres on the A95 I turned south again on to the A939 - signposted for Tomintoul and Braemar and known as the Highland Scenic Route.  From this point the road steadily climbed but the gears on my new (well eBay purchase of a used bike) gravel bike coped well.  About 3 miles I turned off to the right and enjoyed a fast, swooping descent into the forest and back towards Nethy Bridge.  Back at the van Cathy was sat in the hot sunshine reading and Salty was crashed out on his blanket, also making the most of this summer's day.  We sat after lunch with a cup of tea and a local chap came along inviting us to a Beetle Drive in the village hall.  We had a good chat with him about how much we liked the village, the facilities, friendly people and the real feel of community.  He studied for a PhD at Aberystwyth University in Agriculture and returned to the Cairngorms to farm.  At the age of 46 he decided on a career change and now teaches Chemistry in a school.  We chatted about bio-diversity and organic farming and it was lovely to hear that he still farms organically, accepting that 30% of his blackcurrant crop will be taken by birds.  But he knows the benefit wildlife brings to his farm so is happy with his lot.  What a refreshing view.

After lunch we took a 3 mile circular walk - marked as the King's Trail - along the river (where people were swimming in the calmer parts of the flowing river) and through the forest of pine and silver birches.  As we walked we came across lovely homes built in the forest, all blending in with the greenery and nature.  It was a special walk and, with so many walking and cycling options, plus the friendly and welcoming locals, I think we'll definitely return here.

Back at the van we sat outside with a cup of tea as the clouds gathered and the wind increased.  By the time we'd moved inside the van to cook and eat, the rain had started and the weather warning for heavy persistent rain was on course.

Loch Garten

No strimming, no glyphosate

This morning the rain held off long enough to service the van before we left Nethy Bridge and drove north, trying to avoid the large puddles of water gathering along the edges of the roads.  As we couldn't check in at Cullen until midday, we stopped at Portgordon Harbour to sit with a cup of tea, battered by the wind and rain.  The drive to Cullen was short and we were soon parked up on pitch 7 overlooking a stormy sea as it broke over the rocks in front of us. With such heavy weather, the afternoon was spent reading and gazing out of the window.  Later on I donned my galoshes - well waterproof raincoat and wellies - and made my way to Linda's Fish and Chips for a 'fish supper'.  We ate here last year so knew it would be good quality.  The original plan was to have some Cullen Skink in Cullen.  However the best place to eat it has been closed since May.  Another cafe serves it but all the reviews said we needed to book in advance; we didn't want to be tied to a deadline so we went for the fish and chips instead.

Having rung the Tomintoul Bowling Club earlier, I've booked us a pitch in their car park for tomorrow night, which includes electric hook up. So tonight we could take some energy out of the Eco Flow power bank to plug in the laptop and catch up with the van lifers we follow on YouTube.  Apart from that, we're happy to sit out the day here until the rain abates sometime in the early hours of tomorrow morning.

Monday 8 July 2024

Waterfalls, mountains and lochans

Monday 8 July 2024

Nido's parked up on a Camping and Caravanning Club Temporary Holiday Site (THS) in Nethy Bridge, a few miles north of Aviemore.  These pop-up campsites are very handy for the campervanner (and caravanner) as they offer cheap stop overs - usually in a field in a quiet location - with basic facilities and in most cases no need to book - just turn up, show your membership card and pay the fee.  In this case it's £10 per night.  The THS are usually run by a DA - District Association - and they tend to meet at the same places every year.  So they all tend to know each other but are equally welcoming to itinerant 'just turn-uppers' like us!  The very friendly Stewards booked us in, showed us the service points and offered several places to pitch up for the next couple of days.  It's a quiet little village in the middle of a forest and it feels very French, with its community sports facilities, honesty boxes and small recycling area.  We're looking forward to not having to drive anywhere tomorrow.  Hopefully, if the weather holds, I'll get the bike off the rack and explore the local area a little more.

Yesterday's route from Aberfeldy took us along some winding B roads before joining the A9, the main artery running up and down the western edge of the Cairngorms.  Regular heavy rain showers pounded the van and these continued on and off for the rest of the day, until about 7pm when the clouds cleared and the sun shone.  But with little wind the midges arrived; not in huge numbers like on the west coast, but enough to force us to close the van door and engage the fly screens across the open skylight.

We parked up in an almost empty car park at Pattack Falls.  This surprised me a little.  It being a Sunday in July I thought it would be busy and was expecting difficulties in finding a spot.  Later, when we returned from our walk, it was busier.  I suspect the unseasonal weather has kept people at home.  The waterfalls are very close to the car park so perhaps people arrive for a quick look at the tumbling waters before quickly returning to their cars and heading for the nearest cafe.  We continued on up the path through the birch trees, grazing on the succulent and tasty bilberries. As we joined a forest track, the sign post for the lost village of Druim an Aird pointed to the right. However my book of walks suggested turning left so we did.  For anyone interested, it's a small book (about A6 in size) titled '40 Shorter Walks - Aviemore and the Cairngorms' by Paul & Helen Webster.  It contains (unsurprisingly) 40 mainly circular walks 'stretching from the ancient region of Badenoch and the wild-life packed upper reaches of the Spey Valley, through the outdoor sports hub of Aviemore and Grantown and Tomintoul, then over Ballater and Royal Deeside to Braemar' (so says the spiel on the back cover of the book).  

Anyway, back to the walk.  The guide book suggested walking past the cottage and taking a path marked Dalwhinnie, then through a gate and steadily climbing towards the pine forest.  The problem was since the book was written, the 'steadily climbing' path had been obliterated by tree felling.  This resulted in a battle of the wills to cross bog, dykes and dead tree trunks in a vain effort to find the long-lost path!  We eventually found it close to the pine forest entrance, where we stopped to devour our sandwiches with a flask of tea. A journey of about a quarter of a mile had taken the best part of an hour; we're too old for all this now!  But once in the plantation we followed the firebreak through the pines before reaching the lost village of Druim an Aird.  A strategically placed wooden bench provided some respite for another cuppa and a twix, before we explored the ruins.  With the long grass it was difficult to make out the remnants of the buildings and enclosures, but the boundaries made of large stones were still clear. There's no record of why the village was abandoned, but one theory is the the villagers left after their menfolk had died in a snowstorm returning from celebrating a wedding.  Or perhaps they couldn't find the path because the loggers had felled all the trees and blocked it with the remnants!  We followed a signed track back to the car park, by which time it was raining quite heavily.  After hanging wet coats in the bathroom and rubbing down a wet dog, we drove the short 6 miles to the Creag Meagaidh National Nature Reserve, where we could stopover for the night in their large car park. It was still raining so while Cathy had a snooze I cooked some dahl, which we had with chapatis.  Later in the evening the rain disappeared and the sun shone.  I took Salty for a quick meander (aka a wee for him!) but the midges drove us back quite quickly.  There were several vans parked up for the night; another big plus for Scotland vs the rest of the UK - they positively encourage motorhomes and camper vans.

Where's the path gone?

We drove through Dull - it didn't look at all boring!

This morning before breakfast we took a very enjoyable circular walk past the Creag Meagaidh NNR buildings and up a marked path to a viewpoint, with a 360' view of the surrounding mountains and Loch Laggan.  Although only just under 2km long, the walk highlighted the beauty of the Reserve and surrounding countryside.  Back at the van I made a donation towards the running costs as the sign welcoming us campers suggested.  If you do stay over, please do consider a donation; it keeps their valuable work going and ensures future campers will be welcomed.

Heading onwards and northwards, our next walk was again from the '40 Shorter Walks - Aviemore and the Cairngorms' book - Uath Lochans and Inshriach Forest.  As we drove into the tree-soaked car park, the surface of the adjacent lochan (a little loch) was like a mirror, reflecting the surrounding pines, mountains and sky.  It took a while for our eyes to adjust to this optical illusion and, although we took photos, they don't justify the real thing.  Cathy had prepared food and a flask and we headed off on the trail, following the red-topped marker posts, which matched the route in the book.  We climbed to the top of Farleitter Crag to be met with an incredible view, taking in the lochans, Glen Feshie and the mountains beyond.  The silence was deafening with not a puff of wind and we felt like we'd been transported to the Canadian Rockies; at any moment we expected to spot a bear lazily rubbing it's back on one of the scots pines!  We stopped to soak up the view and carried on walking along the ridge, soon coming across a wooden bench next to a large boulder, which overlooked Loch Insh, the marshes and the river Spey - a perfect place to stop and enjoy our lunch.  The route down continued through the scots pine plantation, with plenty of bilberries to enjoy for pudding. Don't worry, we left plenty for the wildlife!  The trees were dripping with mosses and lichens of many colours and sizes, reminding us of those we'd seen in South Carolina.  

Moving on, we made a brief stop at the Tesco in a very busy and touristy Aviemore before carrying on to Nethy Bridge.  Now fed and watered, the silence of the day has continued and I'm enjoying watching the sun start to set through the clouds. The weather's been changeable with lots of heavy rain showers, but we've also had some short but glorious spells of hot sunshine, made all the better for the brief appearance.

Perfect lunch stop