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Published: January 2nd 2010
Christmas is a time when folks get together to enjoy a festive few days of warmth & merriment, spending time with their loved ones and generally relaxing amongst great company & fine food. . . . . .
Bearing all this in mind, we had originally planned to be as far away as possible from East Enders, the Queens Speech, brussel sprouts and the like by heading to New Zealand this year - being more Planes Trains & Automobiles than The Sound Of Music. Unfortunately some credit had been crunched meaning that funds were restricted to a more realistic budgetary escape. This time last year I was treated to three weeks in Thailand, possibly in the Carlsberg League of places to be in this season of festivities. This time round however , after looking at our options, North of the Border was once again a strong contender. The thing about Scotland is its majestic differentness. Although England & Wales have their places in the league of glorious scenery, the further north you travel, the more breathtaking it becomes.
The weather was forecast to be on the chilly side for the forthcoming few days, nightime dropping to minus
16c. A tad chilly for kipping in the Bongo so alternative accommodation was arranged for two nights at our first stop. Glasgow. Loading up Bongo, our 4WD tin house & leaving Yorkshire mid afternoon Christmas Eve got us to our destination after an uneventful 3 hour trip up the motorway.
We were somewhat unprepared for the level of luxury at our penthouse apartment. Located in the city center, the walls were floor to ceiling glass giving spectacular rooftop views. Huge posh kitchen/living room space, 2 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms & a jacuzzi to boot. Even Bongo had his own room, parked safely in the indoor carpark below.
Woke on Christmas morning to a wintery rooftop snowscape, did the regulation pressie opening (I got nowt, as per the norm 😞 ) then set out for a bracing lunchtime wander of the streets of the big city hoping to find a pub for a warming dram before cooking the dinner. Ghost Town. Walked for half an hour, saw no-one. Not a sausage, A barren building strewn wilderness. Everything shut. The only movement on the streets was the occasional empty bus & the odd scrap of tumbleweed shuffling down the
concrete canyons. Quite surreal for a Friday. The only sight of any interest was a fire extinguisher laying on the pavement alongside possibly the only parked car we had seen on the streets. On closer inspection, the side window of the car had been smashed & the contents of the Mercedes had been ransacked. Not a very nice christmas surprise for the owner I guess, glad Bongo was tucked up safe though.
Landed back pretty much round the corner from where we were staying & gatecrashed the Thistle Hotel bar which seemed the only place in town to be open. Stopping off for refreshments we met a strangely dressed man with big feet called Douglas who was good at making things from balloons & doing magic tricks. He showed Dad how to put a pint of Guinness upside down with no spillage & amazed us all with his metamorphic playing cards. Never met a clown before & to be honest, he looked somewhat scary as he lumbered toward our table but he turned out to be a really nice clown. My fears allayed we made tracks back to our pad for Christmas dindins.
Glasgow has a
Looking like the Romans managed to sneak over Hadrians Wall.
very good vibe to it, its easy to see where the likes of Billy Connolly gets their sense of (un)reality from. It certainly has its rough edges but at the heart of it all theres a sense of We're All In This Together
. Although the traditional industries on which it was built have long gone, there's still a feel that there's a future there.
The drive north from Glasgow could only be described as wintery. By the time we were passing Loch Lomond the snow was coming down thick and heavy, picture postcard stuff. The roads from this point become comparatively twisty as the landscape begins to rise around you. With very few signs of the modern world to see, you could well be travelling in the 1930's. We played Spot The Reindeer after cutting cross country to our lunchtime break at Oban, a large Port town bustling with fishing boats & ferries heading in & out of the Hebridies. Despite being Boxing Day, there was still a lot of activity going on except at our intended bolthole, the local oyster bar, which was shut. Shame as they do a mighty fine fresh snack. I remember being
here before, a man was walking along the seafront enjoying his fish 'n chips when a seagull the size of a small dog did a Stuka dive over his shoulder, swiping his entire large cod & showering chips all over the place. He simply shrugged his shoulders, turned back toward the chippy to get another portion & try again. Classic!!.
Another couple of hours leg up the wild west coast drew us to Fort William, our base camp for the next couple of days. Some of the locals had surpassed the traditional Nativity style christmas lights extravaganza, lighting not only the house but filling the gardens with a plethora of illuminated snowmen, reindeer & several Santas. A short spurt past Neptunes Staircase on the Caledonian Canal bought us to another place we'd been before , run very well by a fellow Bongonaught, Woody & his wife Claire. Being not only a caravan/log cabin based holiday park site but also with camper/caravan hook up pitches the initial idea being to use that as a base for a couple of days before heading out to the islands.
It transpired at this point however that in temperatures of minus
Money can't buy this. Well actually, it can but I hope you get my drift.
16c, the electric roof of the Bongo was resolutely deciding to stay down. Added to that, after a recent head gasket replacement & possible airlock in Bongos unnecessarily complicated plumbing, the front heater was only pumping coldish air out. Sleeping in the van was an unpreferred option. The gang at Linnhe organised for us at very short notice a centrally heated twin bedroomed log cabin overlooking the Loch for an unbeatable price.
Waking up in the morning to the sight of the early morning mist rising above the frozen water of the Loch, with a backdrop of thinly layered cloud clasping midway along the snow laden mountains was an absolute gobsmacker. A cosy breakfast was had quietly watching the scene gently change every few minutes as the clouds jostled for position & the pastel first light colours slowly gave way to the sharper hues of full sunlight.
We took a stroll along the beachlike lochside along which follows the West Highland Railway. Steam trains thunder past here on their 40 mile journey through the magnificent Ardnamurchan Peninsular scenery en route from Fort William to Mallaig. Not sure how but the loch seems to
Iron Road To Mallaig
An engineering marvel & the most scenic rail line in the UK - Fact!.
be tidal, bringing in a fresh portion of beachcomber salvage twice a day. On our short walk we found several buckets, a brand new construction workers yellow hard hat, the lower jawbone from what we guessed to be a sheep & a sign that the young human found useful to put to use as an impromptu sled, great for the snowy slopes back at the site.
The next day we set out in the morning for a circular tour of Ardnamurchan, nipping back to Ft William first to replenish Bongos fuel tank. Proved to be a little tricky as either the pumps or the diesel itself at the filling station seemed to be frozen. After two minutes of squeezing the trigger at the pump, it had dispensed a little over two pints. The only alternative was to go for the more expensive Ultra stuff, even so Jensen Button would not have stood a chance if doing his pit stops here.
1st point of call along the single track road was Strontian. There's a steep track from there running over the mountains to a viewpoint overlooking a place with the comedy name of Loch Doilet - Images of
Loch Doilet viewpoint. Stunning stuff.
old women stuck in a lavatory are quickly vanquished from the mind once arriving & seeing the panoramic splendour of one of Mother Natures finest vistas. We had been the only visitors there that day. 2 feet of virgin snow covered the small carpark, great fun to spin around in but a tad tricky to get up the slope when we tried to leave. Anything other than a 4 wheel drive would've certainly been stuck there for some time.
Feeling somewhat peckish by now, back to what is euphemistically referred to as the main road
, following west then north, passing two possible watering holes - both closed, until meeting the top part of the loop with a choice of turning left 17 miles to Mallaig, the furthest point to get to before hitting the sea or right, 25 miles back to Linnhe. We chose left as rumours of a pretty good Fish & Chip restaurant had given Mallaig the edge. As we rolled into the said establishment however, we were told they were about to close. Sometimes it seems very hard to actually be able to spend any money at all around here! Luckily the local Spar was
As Cold As It Gets
I don't mind it being cold when it looks like this though.
open. We bought some fish fingers & a couple of Pot Noodles to prepare back at Bongos little kitchen. That plan failed too as the gas bottle for the cooker had also frozen. There seems to be something of a theme developing here . . . .
Plan B, back to Base Camp for a fish & noodle extravaganza. Although that didn't quite go according to plan either. We had loaded & left to run the well appointed log cabins dishwasher that morning, on returning we found the thing had pumped the waste contents up into the sink. Guess what - the pipes were frozen. We made do, rinsing what we could in the bath & managing to get some scram down our necks at last before snuggling down to our comfy cosy beds.
The next morning was decision time. Original plan being to drive or catch the ferry to Skye then island hop for a few days, returning down to Edinburgh for Hogmanay. Several things were clouding that plan however. Bongo, despite running well, was still misbehaving on the heater front, or to be more precise, the front heater. Anyone knowing these beasts will know
In need of modernisation, ideal for the DIY enthusiast, great views of Loch Ness . . . .
thats a sign of impending expense. Mum had been fairly poorly for a couple of days, worried about a heart flutter & occasional pain down the left arm & in a state of some anxiety - not good. All this combined with an old War Wound playing up in Dads elbows made it fairly easy to decide to skip the hopping & take a scenic route ending up pointing south.
There's a cable car cum ski lift contraption running up the side of Ben Nevis just beyond Fort William. We stopped off there with a view to getting a ride up for a view. As luck would have it, just as we got to the front of the queue for tickets, the cable car broke down. I guess something had frozen. :-/ Just as well we hadn't been 10 minutes earlier I guess. Heading off again, we took the A82 towards Inverness which is another remarkably pretty route eventually following along the banks of Loch Ness. We took a detour at one point up to Corpach near Affric hoping to get some hot soup at the Affric Hotel, another previous haunt but of course, that was closed too.
Weight Equals Wait.
Heavy snowfall makes trees fall down. We watched for some time as these fine lads cleared the road for us.
Then got stuck for half an hour on the road out as a tractor/trailer working with a JCB were removing trees from the road that had fallen due to the weight of the snow on their boughs. Driving was made a little difficult along this stretch as the windscreen washers had packed up. Not much of a problem in itself but each time an oncoming vehicle passed us, it put a fine spray of salt onto the windscreen. Using the wipers just painted the whole scene a frosted white. The only way to clear it was to drive really close behind whatever was in front & use their spray as a wash. Not a really good idea when you're driving blind on unfamiliar twisty roads but Dad managed to keep us alive long enough to reach Inverness where we found a friendly Premier Travel Inn to rest for the night.
A bonus there being a modern invention called wiffy. With wiffy you can connect to t'internet & as we had a laptop wotsit with us, Dad could talk to hs Bongo buddies & get help on sorting out the niggles, which was done shortly after breakfast the next morning.
Road To Nowhere
B9007. A legendary back route at anytime of year, except today. Scary stuff!
So with heaters blowing hot & washers doing their job on the windscreen we made our way out of Inverness having to divert via Elgin as something nasty had rendered the direct route down the A9 closed. I think the powers that be intended us to drive 70 odd miles to Aberdeen before pointing our way south but Dad trusted our little TomTom box from Elgin to find a quicker route which seemed a good idea for the first few miles. It was obvious they had had a fairly thick snowfall overnight but the roads were managable, initially.
It got progressively worse over a thirteen mile stretch towards Aviemore. There were a couple of points where the snow had drifted in due to the sharp east winds to the point where the road vanished from view entirely. The only vague clues as to which direction to head being the occasional pole sticking out from each side of where the road was meant to be. It took an hour to cover that short stretch, not doing any favours to Mums condition sitting (unusually) quietly in the back either!. With a huge sigh of relief we landed back on grippy
This Is In Fact A Colour Photo
A real test of endurance, motor wise.
Photogenically, sometimes black & white will do though.
tarmac eventually hitting the A9 at Aviemore & setting the TomTom for our final pitstop at Galashiels. One of our missions on this trip had been to drop some parts off at a fellow Bongonaughts place so we were at least guaranteed a brew.
From that point on, we hit England fairly swiftly & noticed that after spending a few days traversing 12 to 24 inches of snow, the roads in Scotland were on the most part, well prepared, maintained & manageable. Getting down past Hexham towards Newcastle there seemed to be a couple of inches of snow resulting in utter chaos. We stopped a police car to let them know there was a BMW in a field after spinning off the road on a very mild bend, the gritters seemed scared to come out in the cold & the very few cars on the road we encountered were either doing the speed of a Milkfloat or Colin McRae.
Welcome to England!
1200 miles in 5 days. An epic mini break & one I'd gladly do again. I'm such a lucky Munkey!!
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