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Published: September 28th 2012
Teesdale Motorhome News from Scotland I
Looking over towards Middleton in Teesdale
September 7th - September 16th 2012 Teesdale (Co Durham) - Scotland - Trossachs - Balmoral - Perthshire - Aberdeen -
It's just the way it happens sometimes. This travelling bug I mean. If you have a minute or two to spare I'll tell you how it goes. Sit over there, on the sofa by the window.
Somewhere around this time in September it's Penny's birthday. Penny is an old friend and we're about to discover just how old she is when we get to the celebration party at the remote home she shares with hubby, Roger, up on the moor in Teesdale, County Durham. The prospect of a four-hour-plus drive from home prompts us to take the motorhome and stay at the local farm with Steph, Richard, three or four magnificent rams, a few dozen sheep and the odd cow up on the hill. If we're going all the way to Teesdale it makes sense to make it a holiday, doesn't it?
Yes. That's the way it happens. "Another cup of tea?"
It was Penny's fifty-nine and eleven elevenths by
SS Sir Walter Scott at Trossachs Pier
the way, and a sort of nearly retirement party, washed down with earl grey, scones with clotted cream on Friday afternoon - and the finest brew with much hearty fodder on Saturday. Nothing ever half-measures with our Penny.
Thoughts of the Outer Hebrides: Harris, Lewis, Uist and Benbecula have been on our minds for many moons as the last remnants of Scotland to be added to our list of wild places in the UK to visit whilst we're still standing.Now we're half way up the UK we might as well keep going and get the job done.
By the time we reach the Trossachs to the north of Glasgow we've had enough driving for one day. This is a new route for us; up through the middle of Scotland to the east of Loch Lomond to Aberfoyle, plying the twisting roads around the lochs, a tinge of fresh heather, dusty purple, pillar-box-red rowan and the first signs of autumn as small copses of beech and bracken turn to gold on the delightful hills around us.
Then the mobile phone rang.
"Gale force winds and heavy rain are forecast
for the next few days in the Western Isles," a kindly friend advised.
Change of plan!
"Would you like another biscuit while we check out the map?"
That's the nice thing about travelling in a motorhome. It looks like our trip to the Outer Hebrides is on hold for the time being.
Plan B: Take the scenic road east towards brighter skies and wait it out. Play a little golf and check the weather as we travel.
So we play a few rounds of golf on a discounted Perthshire Green Card: glorious Crief, pleasant Murrayshall and adequate, forgiving, Alyth Strathmore. Janice is still better than me. It's a daft game but we're fitter for it. The forecast for the Western Isles is still dire. We're beginning to think we might abandon the Islands completely on this trip.
Northwards we traipse through Perthshire, striped fields of golden stubble on rolling hills, bales of straw like liquerice allsorts, farmers ploughing gleaming furrows, gathering gulls in their wake like flurries of snow and tiny dots of white wool with black faces beyond long lines of undulating dry-stone walls.
... from the A93
new route takes us into the dramatic Grampian Mountains along the A93, north to Braemar and Balmoral; before us vast horizons and broad dark hills made for hiking sweeping ever upwards under a patchy sky; one moment white cumulus on a bright blue backdrop, the next angry and black, sweeping rain across the landscape beneath a bright arching rainbow - and beneath it a huge herd of red-deer, watching us watching them. It would be impossible not to stop, just to stare in amazement and absorb the enigmatic beauty.
And so to Braemar Castle, sombre under late afternoon grey skies - for stories of ghosts, Jacobites and warring Clans; the Mars and the Farquharsons. Give 'em independance I say and they'll all be at each other's throats once again before you can say 'awa the noo'. There's a room in the castle dedicated to Robert Louis Stevenson who is said to have written Treasure Island whilst here on holiday using many local characters in some of the key roles. There is also a room where Queen Victoria once took afternoon tea.
"I'm sorry. How rude of me. Would you like another?"
There are lots
of interesting castles along this route but I'm sorry to tell you that nearby Balmoral, The Queen's summer residence, is closed for the season. We're also missing the Braemar Games by a couple of weeks; those burly guys in swirling kilts tossing logs, hammers and stones amongst the reelers, the jiggers, the fiddlers, the Harris tweeders, the tammy-shanters, the bagpipe players and the Range Rovers with personalised plates. If every car was the same colour I guess it would make sense for everyone to have a personalised plate; at least it would help to find your car in the car park. Our preferred answer is the golf-ball-sized yellow plastic Pooh Bear we stick on the car aerial - a dollar at Disneyworld.
The A39 follows the River Dee, winding its way through rose-granite towns with fine Victorian houses, smart shops and stone-spired churches, neatly tended flower- bedecked gardens hiding behind hills from the wind and rain. There are indeed many mills on the River Dee, 'where once a jolly miller lived'. In nearby Ballater, the butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker all have the sign over the door; 'By appointment to Her Royal Majesty'.
'By appointment to Her Majesty'..... and the grey haired nomads
We succumed to the sausages and the bread rolls and the signs now read; '...and The Grey-haired Nomads' over the door. A short walk in the nature reserve at Muir of Dinnet delighted us with swathes of dusty-blue heather on rolling hills and fascinating grey-green lichen-clad birch.
Not strictly by choice, our SatNav brought us into North Aberdeenshire through the centre of Aberdeen, previously only another place on the map; a port and a centre of oil and gas from the North Sea on the estuary of the Dee. But its wide main-street sparkles with fine grey-stone buildings, turretted towers and bunting fluttering on the stiff morning breeze. We're aiming for the coast to catch the best of the day's weather, to the agricultural lowlands rising and falling towards the sea, tractors and combines busy in the fields, much of this year's cereal crop still ripening in the sparse sunlight of Scotland's autumn and dreams of a wee dram from the next flaggon of malt whisky.
Plan B, as you would expect, includes a small portion of birding to pass the time and focus the brain whilst we continue to wait out the weather
Loch of Strathbeg Nature reserve
Konik horses - doubtless from the farm of our dear friends, Marek and Hania, in Poland
in the west. This east-facing coast running north from Aberdeen welcomes wintering wildfowl and waders to the more sheltered waters of estuaries and lochs: hundreds of Redshank and Dunlin hunker down in the grass with the Black-headed gulls on the inlet at Newburgh. Guillimot, Black-throated divers, Curlew and Razorbills bob on the waves at Crudden Bay and Gadwall and thousands of Pinkfoot Geese are gathering on their wintering grounds at Loch of Strathbeg, where Konic horses also graze on the reserve. Turning west from Fraserburgh the Gannets of Troup Head stretch their wings above the waves as they head back to roost in the late afternoon and Rock Pipits scurry across the beach at delightful Pennan, that tiny fishing village of white joined-up cottages down the steep single-track spiral road at the base of the cliffs.
It pains me to relate that Janice has been deprived of her annual Puffin fix this year. It seems we have been in all the wrong places at the wrong times. These cheeky looking little birds leave their rabbit-burrow nests by late July and head out to sea to be lost somewhere amongst the stormy waves where they spend the winter.
The best we can do on this occasion is to head out early one morning to see the Gannets at Troup Head, swirling over the waves on long black-tipped wiings in a flurry of confetti at a wedding. Many thousands nest on the cliffs here and even this late there are still a few fluffy chicks clinging on to the rock-face, dark immature birds flapping their wings before the first leap into the unknown whilst parents look on, forever bonding by rubbing beaks in a gannetuan kiss. We're spellbound in these situations.
West of Troup Head the drive sweeps down the steep winding road to the car park above Crovie, another picture-book fishing village with a long dramatic history. There is no road from the edge of the village, merely a narrow footpath divides the houses, end on to the waves, from the raging sea. A brief stop and it's on through the fishing port of Macduff into Banff. There are no Canadian Rockies here, in a stone town with its fair share of empty shops as it spirals into recession along with most high-streets here in the UK, as out-of-town, internet shopping and the current recession
all take their toll.
The high cliffs and rolling hills of this north-facing coast tumble down to the cobbled streets of the picturesque fishing village of Portsoy, its grey-stone cottages and warehouses fronting the equally grey stone walls of the harbour, its fishing boats out on the tide for the day.
As many visitors will already know, it's a requisite when in Scotland to partake of a large portion of fish and chips at the first opportunity. In Nairn, where we camp overnight, 'Friar Tuck's' oblige with suitably-wrapped haddock and chips and we dine in style, parked in the motorhome overlooking the Moray Firth from the harbour as the sun sets across the open water to the west. An opportune moment to dream of sunsets off the Western Isles; or more specifically, The Outer Hebrides. Decision time.
"Let's do it," Janice suggested.
"Do what?" I replied.
"Let's go. Tomorrow. The wind is forecast to drop in a day or two and there's a window of brighter weather on the cards."
And tomorrow came as it invariably does.
We're heading west, out through Inverness and over
the barren hills of Scotland's heartland, for the ferry from Uig on The Isle of Skye, to Tarbert, on Harris, for an encounter with The Outer Hebrides. Come and join us.
"Your tea has gone cold. Would you like me to make a fresh pot?"
Janice and David
The Grey haired nomads
(Motorhome News from Scotland 2 will follow in a few days).
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