Scotland – Day 5 – Loch Ness & Skye

11th July 2021. Another early start, and rallying the troops gets harder the further into the trip we get. They may have slowed down but I had a coast to coast drive to engage in. East to West, we were literally chopping across the waist of Scotland. It was also the drive I was most looking forward to, and as it turned out, correctly so. We were off to the Isle Of Skye. Even as I type this up, I am sipping a glass of Talisker whisky (that is not a joke, I actually am).

Fueled up in Inverness just to be safe, then started the epic drive down the entire length of Loch Ness. The landscape on the way down was incredible. Huge trees seemed to grow vertically out of an almost vertical slope, as the road had been carved out along the shore of this famous loch. We stopped multiple times, which made this 20 mile section of the trip go on seemingly forever. There was a visitor centre along the route but thanks to Covid it was shut. Luckily there was a village nearby who were more than happy to risk the plague and relive people of their tourist dollars. We stopped off once more near a small forest where everyone stretched their legs, before hitting Fort Augustus.

We had to double back slightly in order to head to the Isle of Skye but it was worth it to say we have driven the length of Loch Ness. The road to Skye was little short of magnificent. Seeing the bridge to Skye come into view was stunning. In fact, I am not sure why they didn’t film Lord Of The Rings here, as the entire journey had an almost mythical feel to it. Sweeping valleys, mountains, lush green foliage and clear, free flowing rivers and lochs. What’s not to like? The run from Fort Augustus to Broadford in Skye took about an hour and a half, and despite it looking a long way, and stopping relentlessly to enjoy the vista, we were at the hotel by 2 pm.

Once on the island, we didn’t stop. We dumped our stuff at the hotel and then headed over to the western side of the Island to see the Fairy Pools. Had a good mooch around and then came back to Broadford, with the realisation dawning on us that maybe one night here would not be enough. Ash had a kip, we went to the local shop for beer and sweets. Both essential for happy travels! We once again ate at the hotel (as we had done every night so far, for sake of ease). Despite being exhausted, sleep did not arrive until midnight. We all slept like logs.

As a footnote to this, it was also the Wimbledon Men’s Single’s final (Djokovic won) and the final of Euro 2020 – England v Italy. Italy won, however it went to penalties and I got told off for yelling out in the restaurant whilst having dinner, despite the fact the place was deserted.

Scotland – Day 4 – Off to Inverness

10th July 2021.

A good nights sleep was followed by an amazing breakfast. Will I ever tire of Haggis? Doubtful. I decided to load the bulk of the car up before showering, as the weather was so warm, I was undoing the good of said shower. After breakfast we got the rest of the bits loaded into the car then went for a stroll, in the hope of seeing some Red Squirrels. There was a large forest just down the road from the hotel. It was supposed to be rammed full of these squirrels. There were none in sight! This was a theme that was to plague us during our entire trip. We saw one red squirrel, and it was unfortunately intertwined with tyre rubber and tarmac (not our doing, I hasten to say). After an hour or so, we strolled back to the car, by way of an Art Gallery.

The next leg of the trip was just a short hop up to Inverness. The drive looked boring, A9 all the way pretty much, so we did our usual, and went off-piste. Somewhere along the way we came across an amazingly large bridge, crossing an equally large river. We access this via a narrow grassy track, which also had us exit across an old, low, rickety wooden bridge some yards downstream from the new monstrosity that carried a main road.

Our ultimate destination that day was the Bunchrew House Hotel. A pink castle just to the west of Inverness located on the shores of the Beauly Firth. It has a glorious long driveway, leading to a graveled courtyard. The only place I managed to fly the drone, footage to be added here once uploaded. We had spotted a large toyshop in Inverness on the way through, so Erin and I went and treated ourselves! Back at the hotel we had a stroll and explored the shore and grounds. This was an amazing place, great rooms, friendly staff, just let down slightly by an overbearing Maitre D’ (and a bloody long wait for food, which is unexpected in a 16 bedroom hotel).  It was a good chance to unwind a little after the manic driving of the last couple of days. Fed, then bed by 11.30. Tomorrow is another long day of driving.

Scotland – Day 3 – The Cairngorms

9th July 2021.

It was an early start, prompted mainly by a bad nights sleep. Everyone was up, packed and fed in short order and we were on the road by half 9. Bidding goodbye to the Killin Hotel, we set off with 4 waypoints in line before our next destination, the hope being that we took in as much of the Cairngorms as was possible during the 3 and a half hour drive. The first of these stops was a Tummel Bridge. We visited the Queens View at Loch Tummel. This is a ‘Bucket List’ view and one that, if you ever get the chance, you should go to without hesitation.

Having picked up our now slackend jaws after gazing at the beauty of Loch Tummel, we headed off to Braemar, stopping off at Pitlochry for fuel. The drive through the Cairngorms is hard to put into non-cliched words. Driving through clouds at 600 meters above sea level was a personal favourite of mine. The biggest issue I had as a driver was continually having to stop for photo opportunities. You also need to keep your wits about you, as some of the roads are less than wide. This was aptly demonstrated when an HGV truck decided to take the back roads, causing chaos and causing me to leave a chunk of alloy wheel embedded in the side of a hill as I rock crawled around him.

Our next stop was the Bridge Of Brown which is just outside the Glenlivet Estate. I was unable to visit the distillery there due to time constraints and whinging passengers, so we carried on to our destination – The Boat Of Garten, where we were staying at the Boat Inn hotel. If nothing, Scotland has some incredibly colourfully named towns and villages. The hotel, despite outward appearances, was good. We ate and then slept early ready for tomorrow.

Scotland – Day 2 – A Load Of Trossachs!

8th July 2021 – Day 2 – Crossing The Trossachs.

The second day began with a decent breakfast for us all around half 8. By the time everyone was ready, and the car was loaded up, it was pushing 10 a.m., but what turned out to be a glorious drive, was soon to begin. The first half of this drive found us meandering along the west bank of Loch Lomond. A couple of ‘Tourist Stops’ were made, and many photographs were taken. We were also able to walk along the shore line of the Loch, and it felt almost as though we were at the coast. The roads were narrow but the traffic was very light, but we took our time to soak up the majestic scenery.

As we moved away from Loch Lomond, and into the Trossachs, the scenery began to change again, green, mountainous and covered with forestry. Along the route we came across the Falls Of Falloch. This waterfall, located slightly off the main road, empties into a large fresh water pool. You can access it from both the lower end, and, thanks to a Jurassic Park style cage system, at the top end. It was a refreshing break, and if you follow our route I would highly recommend stopping there.

Our final destination for the day was the town of Killin. The name apparently means ‘White Church’ in Gaelic, from when Irish Monks came to the area. We arrived too early to check into our hotel (check in is at 3 pm, no earlier, thank you!), so we went for a walk around the town and went down to the Falls Of Dochart. The falls run through the town and are basically part of a larger river. It was very peaceful watching the water flow by. The peace was interrupted by the requirement to go shopping. Once the hotel allowed us to check in, we all crashed out for a while before having food and then hitting the hay. This travelling lark is fun. Fun, but tiring. A goods nights rest was required, as for tomorrow, the Highlands await us.

Scotland – Day 1 – Leicester to Loch Lomond

7th July 2021 – Day 1

The start to our trip was not as expected. Day 1 was supposed to be a leisurely jaunt up to the Lake District, which lead on to Day 2 and a stopover at Gretna Green before the push to Scotland proper. The NHS saw to it that this leg of the trip was scuppered and Ashley had to go in for a vital oncology appointment on what would have been Day 3. The NHS did not move very quickly and it took them around 2 hours to have a chat and do a blood test. We eventually managed to set sail for Scotland properly sometime after 12 noon.

Sandbach Services

To say it was a long drive was an understatement. The run up the M1 and across to the M6 was okay. The M6 was its usual jolly self, and was rammed with traffic almost right up to the border. We made 2 pit stops on the way, one at Sandbach services on the M6 and the other was at a service station just before Carlisle. Erin was now happy. Seeing the massive ‘Welcome To Scotland’ sign as we crossed the border meant the holiday was on! Once we had cleared Glasgow the traffic dissipated to a trickle, and the rest of the journey was more pleasurable. The scenery also began to change, and everything seemed greener.

We arrived at our first hotel at 8.15 pm – The Inn Keepers Lodge at Loch Lomond. Poorly signed, and not helped by the Sat Nav actually taking us away from the hotel, it was a pub with rooms, right along side a canal that feeds into the Loch. All of us were tired and weary, so we grabbed a quick snack in the bar and had a stroll down to the Bonny Bonny Banks of Loch Lomond (as I hummed ‘Margaret’ by Marillion silently in my brain). Sleep came quickly to all of us, as we geared up for the deep dive into the heart of Scotland.

Welcome To Scotland

355.6 miles, and over 7 hours of driving – this was the longest leg of the trip, and in terms of driving was possibly the dullest! The mountainous drive that lay ahead was what I was looking forward to!

Scotland – Prelude

Twas The Night Before Scotland, When All Through The House…..I was expecting chaos, but all was quiet.

The preceding days, however, were a different story. Getting prepared is a nightmare. The crossbars for the roof rails didn’t arrive until a day before departure, then I had to mount said roof box. This involved math, and measuring. The crossbars have explicit instructions on how far apart and how level they must be. It was not like the ones that came with the Freelander! I got it done eventually, with a little last minute help bolting down the roof box itself.

Next came the filling of the roof box. Again, everything had to be weighed and evenly distributed which is no easy task. Having a glass panoramic roof meant we could only hold so much weight on the roof rails, which includes the weight of the cross bars and roof box itself. I managed to sort it, with 10 kg to spare.

Packing was a different matter. Suffice to say, things got heated, words were exchanged, items were removed, but we got there in the end.

The night before lift off was remarkably quiet. The car was fueled, packed and ready. Coordinates were laid into the sat nav, and we all got an early(ish) night.

The Far North awaits…..

Scotland?

As many of you who know us know, my Brother-In-Law, Ashley, has been our constant travelling companion for nigh on almost 20 years. We have driven the four points of the compass in England, with his companionship 99% of the time. No matter what the vehicle we were in (anyone remember the VW Vento?!), or what the weather was like, he would invariably come up with an out-of-the-way place to explore, and, in the right season, hunt for mushrooms. His infamous Green Jacket became legendary, almost mythical.

2021 arrived, and things changed. It was with utter shock and horror that he was then diagnosed with Stage 4 inoperable Terminal Pancreatic Cancer around April of this year, completely out of the blue. A minor discomfort, that turned out to be a major problem. The diagnosis may have come earlier if it were not for the dreaded Covid-19 plague, but it came nonetheless. To date, his treatment by the NHS has been nothing short of diabolical, and, at the time of writing, he has yet to even be seen by an oncologist.

Whilst we were all reeling in a state of numb denial, his pragmatism shone through, and it was decided that a possible final ‘Hurrah!’ to our adventures should be something as monumental (an emphasis on the mental) as physically possible given the current state of world affairs. With this in mind, we needed to find somewhere none of us had been before, by which I mean had ‘properly’ been. We have all been to many places briefly, but to ‘properly’ go somewhere it to explore all it has to offer, to dig beneath the surface and to find the unusual. We settled on a tour of our northernmost neighbours – Scotland.

I sat down and drew up a plan. It involved a spreadsheet, Google Maps and many hours of using maths and brains to calculate times, distances, hotels and so on. Plans were then altered. Eventually, dates were agreed, route was planned and accommodation was booked. Everything looked good.

Things changed, again. Boris and Sturgeon decided we all needed to be locked up a little longer. We moved the dates, Ash booked the hotels. Then the NHS struck. First oncology appointment – 3 days into the proposed trip! So, what do we do? Cancel totally, move, or carry on regardless? Well, we decided, lets just do it! First two hotels were cancelled and a new route from here to Hotel 3 was laid in, but we are still going.

We are now prepping like mad – sorting out equipment, clothing, work, beer – its (hopefully) full steam ahead. 12 days, 11 hotels, 4 people, 1 Land Rover. Trossachs, Cairngorms, Lochs, Mountains, Islands, Nevis, Hadrian, Haggis and (hopefully) Distilleries. There are lots of ‘Hopfully’s in there, but with Covid in our midst, all we can do is hope. England just beat Germany in Euro 2020, so anything is possible!

We will be posting stuff on here, and on all the social media platforms we have, as we go. Please follow us and enjoy the splendor of Scotland along with us. As we drive towards an ultimately different, slightly less interesting, future, we will do what we can to make the present memorable. Drone at the ready……!

Also, if any of you feel so inclined, please donate as much as you can to Pancreatic Cancer UK. This is a much underfunded, and under researched cancer that needs more attention. Thank you.